Thursday, January 19, 2017

Steamboat Rock

Banks Lake fills the Grand Coulee
6 miles loop, 900 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate, due to rock scrambling and route finding
Access: Road to trailhead accessible to all vehicles, Washington State Discover Pass required for parking

The waters of Banks Lake viewed from atop Steamboat Rock are so calm today that it is almost impossible to imagine the violence of torrential floods tearing through this desert landscape. Yet those cataclysmic floods, initiated by the failure of huge glacial dams holding back ancient, long-gone lakes in past ice ages, are the very agents responsible for carving the steep-sided coulees in Eastern Washington. Steamboat Rock, a mesa rising out of the heart of the Grand Coulee, the most spectacular of these flood-carved canyons, is an extraordinary place to appreciate the role of water in creating the natural landscape; the Grand Coulee region is also a testament to the massive changes that humans have brought to the Columbia Plateau. The grasslands and sagebrush atop this isolated flattop mountain seem almost prehistoric and the rock's many cliffs provide stunning views of coulee country. Although very much out of the way for most people who don't live in Coulee City, Electric City, or Ephrata, I highly encourage you to make your way out here: this is one of the most interesting spots in Washington state.

There are no well-established trails on Steamboat Rock; there is a trail leading to its base and a narrow and steep path ascending to the notch between the two halves of the plateau, but the top of the plateau-like tops of each side of Steamboat Rock have only unmarked use paths that sometimes interconnect and often fade out into nothing. Route finding is not particularly difficult, as the hike is essentially just a circumnavigation of the top of the rock, but it is often easy to lose the paths themselves.

I hiked to Steamboat Rock on an overcast weekend, seeking out the desert of Eastern Washington as an escape from the neverending rain of Seattle. From Seattle, I followed I-90 east to Exit 151 at George and then took Highway 283 northeast until it joined with Highway 28, which I continued along past Ephrata to Soap Lake. At Soap Lake, I took the left turn for Highway 17 north, following Highway 17 along Lake Lenore through the lower reaches of the Grand Coulee to its junction with US Route 2 at the Dry Falls Dam. Here, I took the right turn onto US Route 2 east, passing through Coulee City, after which I made a turn left onto Highway 155 north through Grand Coulee along Banks Lake. The turnoff for Steamboat Rock State Park was clearly marked off to the left on Highway 155; however, before starting the hike, I continued along Highway 155 north to the Grand Coulee Dam.

Any effort to understand human interactions with the landscape of the Grand Coulee and the Columbia Basin must take into account the role of the Grand Coulee Dam. The dam, spanning the width of the Columbia River near the northern entrance to the Grand Coulee, was the largest concrete structure in the world when built and today retains that distinction within the United States; it is also the largest dam and generates more electricity than any other single power station in the nation. The Grand Coulee Dam's roles in both power generation and irrigation have been critical keys to the economic development in the Pacific Northwest; it generates 7 GW of renewable power for the Northwest and has decimated the salmon population in the Columbia River watershed. To some it is a miracle of renewable energy and an engine of economic progress; to others, an environmental catastrophe.

Grand Coulee Dam, the largest dam and hydropower station in the United States
The Grand Coulee Dam was built during Franklin D. Roosevelt's administration as one of the crowning civil engineering achievements of the New Deal. The agricultural potential of the arid Columbia Basin had long been recognized but was unrealizable without a reliable source of water. Wanting to turn the sagebrush country into fields of wheat and acres of apples, European American settlers in the late 19th and early 20th century pushed for a construction of a dam along the Columbia to provide for irrigation. Some even proposed a dam a thousand feet tall that would cause the Columbia to flood the Grand Coulee directly- this plan, however, was never realized. Instead, as part of the New Deal, the Roosevelt administration funded a dam 550 feet tall that would span the Columbia, creating a reservoir stretching all the way to the Canadian border.

Water from the new reservoir, named after the president who pushed for the dam's construction, was pumped uphill into the Grand Coulee; an earthen dam was built near Coulee City to define the southern end of this second reservoir. Thus Banks Lake was born, flooding almost the entirety of Grand Coulee, and Steamboat Rock, which once rose above a canyon floor of sagebrush, almost became an island. Water from Banks Lake then fed canals by gravity flow, flowing south to irrigate the 670,000 acres of the Columbia Basin Project. Here, even today, acres upon acres of farmland from Ephrata to Moses Lake to Othello, all the way down to the Tri-Cities, are watered by the Columbia River, producing alfalfa, sugar beets, potatoes, and many other crops.

Hydroelectric power stations at the dam would create plentiful and cheap electricity throughout the Pacific Northwest- power that made possible the aluminum smelting plants at Vancouver, Wenatchee, Spokane, and elsewhere in Washington State that were critical to the manufacturing of Allied planes and warships during World War II. Power from the Grand Coulee Dam was key to the decision to locate the first plutonium enrichment reactors of the Manhattan Project at Hanford: it was the hydropower of the Columbia that fueled the fissile material responsible for the radioactive Alamogordo glass at the Trinity Site and the deaths, both immediate and agonizingly drawn-out, of the people of Nagasaki on and after August 9, 1945. It is power from the Grand Coulee Dam that today makes the Pacific Northwest one of the few regions of the country that relies on majority renewable power.

Yet the economic, environmental, and cultural costs of the project have been correspondingly high. The Columbia Basin Project was originally meant to benefit small farms in the Columbia Basin and envisioned as cost-neutral as farmers would reimburse the Bureau of Reclamation for its expenditures on the project. However, the costs of turning Columbia Basin loess into fertile farmland blossomed as decades dragged on, turning the project into a money sink for the federal government. Small farms were taken over by large agricultural corporations, which today still farm in a land that would otherwise be too arid for cultivation because of the effectively government-subsidized water of the Columbia Basin Project.

No organism is as strongly identified with the Columbia River as salmon. When Lewis and Clark arrived in the Columbia River watershed, they noted the extraordinary abundance of the fish in the Northwest. These anadromous fish spend most of their lives in saltwater, but they are born in freshwater mountain streams and return to these same streams at the end of their lives to mate and die. Dams impose a physical obstacle for salmon returning upstream: they are unable to continue upstream when they encounter one, unless fish ladders have been built to allow them to transit. At 550 feet in height, the Grand Coulee Dam is too tall for a fish ladder. The Chinook, sockeye, pink, and coho salmon that reach this barrier are unable to continue any further up the Columbia. This is a critical loss for the ecology of the Rocky Mountains upstream of the Grand Coulee Dam: salmon returning from the ocean serve as a food source for inland omnivores and carnivores and returning salmon contribute vital nutrients to inland ecosystems.

The loss of salmon is not only environmental. For the Colville People, the salmon runs at Kettle Falls, a set of rapids upstream of the dam along the Columbia, were a key element of their culture and their livelihood. The inundation of Kettle Falls and the end of the salmon runs ended a defining cultural aspect for not only the Colville, but many other regional peoples. To many Americans of non-native descent in Eastern Washington, Native American complaints about the salmon are viewed as trivial or impediments to economic progress. It must be recognized that concerns over destroyed salmon runs are no less existential than concerns over shuttered aluminum smelters in Wenatchee and Ferndale and that to some of the Colville, the loss of salmon has more or less been the loss of their culture.

The Grand Coulee Dam is not any one of its facets; it is all of them. It is simultaneously constructive and destructive, a tragedy and a triumph; few arguments claiming it to be purely good or bad take into consideration the multitude of perspectives surrounding it.

Back to the Steamboat Rock hike: after turning onto the road for Steamboat Rock State Park, I drove up the peninsula into the park, passing the entrance station and the turnoff to the right for the first loop of the campground. At the turnoff for the second campground loop, I made a right turn and parked next to the bathrooms; I then crossed the road to the clearly-marked Steamboat Rock Trailhead. There is no parking directly next to the trailhead.

Steamboat Rock viewed from Highway 155
From the trailhead, I followed a wide dirt trail gradually uphill through sagebrush for about a third of a mile to a junction with a small loop on a gravel road; I headed straight here, picking up the trail again at the other side of the loop and continuing to walk directly towards the base of the rock.

Steamboat Rock, viewed from its base
Looking at the layers of columnar basalt rising above me, I spotted the trail heading up the rock. Arriving at the rock's base, I left the wide gravel trail and started up the narrow trail built into the loose rock slopes of the lowest exposed layer of Steamboat Rock. The trail was not very stable here, so it was necessary to use my hands as I scrambled up the trail and through a tight switchback until I reached more stable terrain on a mid-layer plateau between the two parts of Steamboat Rock. From here, I followed the trail uphill as it climbed steadily towards the base of the northern rock. The trail ascended until reaching a T-intersection; here, I took a left to continue ascending towards the saddle between the two sides of the rock. Soon afterwards, I arrived at the gap and veered off to the left to follow a use path up to the top of the southern rock through a break in the cliffs, reaching the level top of the rock about three quarters of a mile from the trailhead.

Once atop the flat summit of the rock, I began wandering along use paths on a clockwise circumnavigation of the top of the rock. Reaching the rim of the rock, I came to magnificent views of Banks Lake below and the cliffs of the Grand Coulee around me.

Cliffs of the Grand Coulee rise above Banks Lake
Views were particularly impressive at the southwestern tip of the rock, where I gazed directly down into the very blue waters of Bank Lake and south down the cut of the Grand Coulee, which continued as far as my eye could see.

Grand Coulee viewed from the south end of Steamboat Rock
Having done most of a loop around the southern rock, I dropped back down to the gap between the rocks at the spot where I found a break in the cliffs and bushwhacked until I found a use path that took me back to the saddle point between the two rocks. This time, I ascended up the northern rock and began to follow a use path atop that plateau for a loop around the rim of the northern rock. The southern portion of the rock was much smaller than the northern portion: going around the southern rock was only about a mile of hiking, but doing the full loop around the rim of the northern rock summed to over three and a half miles.

Steamboat Rock
When I came back to the western rim of the rock, I enjoyed constant and incredible views of Banks Lake and the sheer cliffs of the rock dropping almost down to the lake itself.

Banks Lake and the Grand Coulee
The extraordinary scenery is the result of an extraordinary natural history. The many-layered cliffs, which at times seem almost remniscent of the sedimentary layers of the Grand Canyon, were formed here by igneous rather than sedimentary processes. In fact, these layers of columnar basalt were formed by huge eruptions in which low-silica lava spread out over much of the Columbia River Basin, forming flood basalts. Repeated eruption events created multiple, distinct layers of columnar basalt. The cause of these eruptions is still not fully understood, although one theory links the flood basalt eruptions to early activity on the Yellowstone Hot Spot.

The layers of rock in the coulee wall were formed by massive eruptions, but the coulees themselves were formed instead by massive floods. When geologist J Harlen Bretz proposed in the 1920s a theory that occasional catastrophic floods of volumes never-before observed sculpted out the coulee landscape, he was dismissed by colleagues who held fast to Charles Lyell's principle of uniformitarianism. Besides, they asked, what could provide a source for these massive floods he claimed carved the coulees? Yet Bretz was sure he was right: at Potholes Coulee and at what is now recognized as Dry Falls, he recognized tell-tale geological signs that these locations were shaped by massive waterfalls greater than Niagara and not simply by the low-flow seasonal streams now present.

From later research into the geological past of the Clark Fork watershed in the Rocky Mountains emerged a startling revelation: a geological bathtub ring high on the mountains in the watershed indicated that in the past, a large lake had been present, formed when advancing glaciers during Ice Ages dammed the Clark Fork River. This prehistoric lake, known as Lake Missoula, would have had an unstable existence similar to glacier-dammed lakes that sometimes occur today at Russell Fjord with the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska or at Lago Argentino with the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia. In other words, the ice dam would likely have failed from time to time due to increasing water pressure: these dam failures would have then provided the catastrophic floods across the Columbia Basin to carve the coulees. Bretz was validated.

I continued along the rim of the rock, making an extended stop at the northern tip for views of both the snowy Cascades in the west and the Okanogan Highlands in the north.

The Cascades rise to the west of the Grand Coulee
Okanogan Highlands rise beyond the north end of Banks Lake
Wrapping around the north end of the rock, I started coming down the eastern rim, where I was afforded a good view into Northrup Canyon, a side canyon carved into the Grand Coulee. In a flat, brushy landscape, one thing literally stuck out from Northrup Canyon: a forest. In fact, the pines along the floor and walls of Northrup Canyon are the only naturally occurring forest in Grant County, which encompasses a large portion of the Columbia Basin.

View of Northrup Canyon from Steamboat Rock
While hiking above the eastern rim, I also saw a large herd of deer grazing on the wide grasslands that formed the top of Steamboat Rock. I was surprised to see so many deer here, considering the difficulty of all paths leading up to the top of the rock, but I suppose the rock's isolation also serves to protect these deer from predators.

Deer atop the grasslands of Steamboat Rock
I made a final turn that brought me along a south-facing aspect of the rock, hiking along it until I came to an unmarked but clear trail that cut through a break in the cliffs to the left and descended rapidly. I took this trail, following it down from the top of the northern rock until I came to the T-intersection which I had encountered on my way up. From here, I made a left turn and descended down the steep scramble route back to the wide gravel trail at the rock's base and walked back to the trailhead.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Ebey's Landing

Bluff Trail at Ebey's Landing
3.5 miles loop, 300 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate, trail occasionally narrow and often near cliff edges
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Washington State Parks Discover Pass required for parking

One of the most beautiful stretches of coastline on the Salish Sea is at Ebey's Landing on Whidbey Island. Ebey's Landing covers a landscape of farmland, forests, beaches, and bluffs in a patchwork of federal, state, and private lands; it is not only a scenic spot but also a historically significant area in Washington State. The Coupeville region is collectively part of the Ebey's Landing National Historic Reserve, the first and largest national historic reserve in the country, which has helped prevent excessive development in this charming landscape. This loop hike follows the Bluff Trail high above Admiralty Inlet along the cliffs of Whidbey Island on the way out and returns via a walk along the beach.

I did this hike on an extremely nice January weekend. I headed out from Seattle early in the morning, taking the Mukilteo-Clinton Ferry and then following Washington 525 north to Coupeville. I spent the morning at Fort Casey and ate lunch at Toby's Tavern in Coupeville before heading to Ebey's Landing. The turnoff for Ebey's Landing is just west of the turnoff for Coupeville Main Street on Highway 20; I reached the trailhead by following Ebey Road south until I came to the sign for Ebey's Landing State Park at the point where the road descended to the beach. The parking lot was full when I arrived, so I parked along the southwest side of the road to start the hike.

The Bluff Trail departed to the northwest from the parking lot, briefly meandering near the beach before climbing up the beach bluffs to the flat terrain of Ebey's Prairie via stairs. At the top of the stairs, the trail followed the edge of the bluff, with farmland to my right and wide open views of the Admiralty Inlet and the Olympics to my right.

Bluff Trail at Ebey's Landing
Half a mile from the trailhead, I came to the junction with the Ebey's Prairie Trail, which branched off to the right and followed the former boundary of Isaac Ebey's land. In continued straight here, embarking on the steepest climb of the hike. I soon found myself atop a set of higher bluffs with a commanding view of Ebey's Prairie, the Cascades, the Olympics, and Puget Sound.

Ebey's Landing, Whidbey Island coastline
Mount Baker, Three Fingers, Pilchuck, Glacier Peak, and Baring were among the notable peaks visible in the Cascades. In front of the Cascades lay the patchwork of farms and homes on Ebey's Prairie. This plot of land received its current name from Isaac Ebey, the first European settler on Whidbey Island. Ebey claimed, settled, and farmed a square mile of the island that at the time was mostly open prairie. Ebey's Prairie was itself an artifact of Native American presence on Whidbey Island: the grasslands existed because of frequent burns conducted by its original inhabitants. Keeping the area unforested allowed Native Americans to harvest foods such as camas bulbs.

Ebey was a prominent citizen in the early history of Washington Territory. The landing on his property was one of the principal docks on the west side of Whidbey Island. Ebey was instrumental in locating the Customs House in the Puget Sound region in Port Townsend, contributing to that town's good fortunes in the latter half of the 19th century. Ebey's death was as dramatic as his life: seven years after founding his homestead on Whidbey Island, Ebey was killed by Tlingit or Haida, who traveled from Southeast Alaska down to the Puget Sound to avenge the killing of one of their tribe at Port Gamble the previous year by European American sailors.

Mount Baker rises over Ebey's Prairie
Three Fingers rising above the farms on Ebey's Prairie
Once atop the bluff, the trail was fairly straightforward, following the undulating edge of the steep slopes of the island. The Olympic Mountains dominated the skyline across Admiralty Inlet, with Mount Constance, Mount Townsend, Buckhorn Mountain, Blue Mountain, and Mount Angeles among the most notable peaks.

Olympics rising across Admiralty Inlet
Rainier was barely visible in the far distance to the south. I saw the Port Townsend-Coupeville ferry make multiple runs over the course of my hike. Many large container ships made their way in and out of the Sound through the Inlet.

From the bluffs, I could see Fort Casey at Admiralty Head on Whidbey Island, Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, and Fort Worden at Point Wilson on the Quimper Peninsula. Combined, these three forts protected Puget Sound and the naval bases and shipyards at Bremerton and Everett from any potential naval invasion. All three forts were established as part of the Endicott Plan during the Cleveland administration, in which the War Department decided that it was necessary to fortify major harbors and population centers against hostile naval attacks. Built around the turn of the twentieth century, the three forts of the Puget Sound were designed to create a triangle of fire on hostile ships passing through Admiralty Inlet. These defenses were never put to the test, and advances in aerial warfare rendered these forts obsolete by the Second World War; all three forts have since been converted into state parks. Most of the guns in their batteries were scrapped long ago, but Fort Casey still showcases two large 10-inch guns.

Coupeville to Port Townsend ferry, Rainier faint in the distance
After following the bluff trail for a few minutes along the top of the grassy cliffs, Perego's Lagoon came into sight. Here, a sandbar separated a brackish pool from the ocean and prevented severe erosion on the bluff itself, creating a less steep and grassier cliff.

Perego's Lagoon and the Salish Sea from the Bluff Trail
I followed the muddy Bluff Trail along the entire length of Perego's Lagoon, enjoying the continuous views of the Olympic Mountains. I also found the forest to be quite interesting here: many of the trees were heavily sculpted by the strong winds coming off the Strait of Juan de Fuca, creating many unusual shapes.

Gnarled tree along the trail
At the far end of the lagoon, the trail descended the grassy hill via two long switchbacks, coming down to the beach. One of the switchback turns was badly eroded, seemingly because too many hikers had followed a steep gully downhill and caused the trail itself to degrade badly. Don't cut switchbacks here! The trail is well labelled- there's no good excuse for making erosion worse in this fragile environment.

Perego's Lagoon
Arriving at the beach, I saw on a piece of driftwood and gazed out at the Olympics and at the cliffs along the coast to the north. Here, the tops of the bluffs seemed forested and undeveloped, giving the island a wilderness feel even though we were not too far from towns and farmland.

Headlands at the beach
From this point, I followed the beach south back to the trailhead. Although the views were undeniably better along the Bluff Trail, the beach had different charms: wildlife, kelp washed up from the Salish Sea, the music of breaking waves. At one point, I saw two bald eagles soar past me overhead, a heartening reminder that even a species at the brink of extinction can come back strong and become ubiquitous again.

Bald eagles

Friday, January 13, 2017

Mount Teneriffe

Mailbox and the other Snoqualmie Pass corridor peaks from the summit of Teneriffe
10.5 miles loop, 3950 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Strenuous; trail is extremely steep and dangerous snow conditions occur in winter, route-finding may be necessary in times of snow cover
Access: Paved road to trailhead, extremely limited trailhead parking, Washington State Discover Pass required for trailhead parking

Mount Teneriffe is one of the many peaks that rise above the Seattle suburb of North Bend; it's also arguably the best hike among those peaks, as the views from the summit are quite good and the mountain sees only a fraction of the crowds that attack Mount Si and Mailbox Peak. Teneriffe Falls, an intermediate destination, is one of the most impressive waterfalls around North Bend during the spring snowmelt and a worthy destination in its own right before summer begins. While many hikers may head to Teneriffe Falls, hikers who continue uphill on the steep and rough Kamikaze Trail to Teneriffe's summit are likely to find a little more solitude, less than an hour's driving from Seattle.

This loop takes an extremely direct approach, reaching the summit in 3.5 miles via the Kamikaze Trail. In the steepest section, the trail ascends 2300 feet in the span of a single mile- an astounding angle of attack on this mountain. The return segment follows the Mount Teneriffe Road Trail, which provides a longer and much gentler return to the trailhead. Due to the extreme steepness of this trail and because following the Kamikaze Trail and the upper reaches of the Mount Teneriffe Road Trail may require occasional route-finding, especially when snow-covered in winter, I only recommend this trail to experienced hikers who have already visited many of the other summits in the North Bend area.

I hiked this trail on a clear February weekday. A friend and I drove out from Seattle in the morning, running into a bit of traffic but still making it to the trailhead a little after 9 AM. We took I-90 east from Seattle to North Bend, leaving the interstate at exit 32 and heading north on 436th Ave SE until reaching North Bend Way; here, we turned left to follow North Bend Way towards North Bend, then took the next right onto Mount Si Road, which quickly crossed a bridge over the Middle Fork Snoqulamie River. We followed Mount Si Road past the trailheads to Little Si and Mount Si to a turnoff on the left for the Mount Teneriffe trailhead, near the junction with 480th Ave SE. There was no parking lot here; trailhead parking was limited to the side of the road alongside the gravel Mount Si Road before reaching a gate on the road.

We started the hike by following the old road on a gradual uphill. At two separate junctions, we stayed to the right to continue on the road, following signs for Teneriffe Falls; after a mile and a half of relatively flat hiking through the forest, the trail came to the base of Mount Teneriffe and began to ascend at a more vigorous incline along its slopes, passing a talus slope with some nice views of the North Bend valley. Soon afterward, the trail began to bend into a small canyon and then began ascending via switchbacks along a creek. A small cascade was visible through the trees to our left.

Falls below Teneriffe Falls
Continuing to ascend via switchbacks, we came to the base of Teneriffe Falls about two and a half miles from the trailhead. This is where most hikers stop and turn back.

When stream flow is high, Teneriffe Falls is a stunning sight. Here, snowmelt from high up Mount Teneriffe leaps and bounds as it descends over 200 feet down a steep, rocky face. The viewing area for the falls is very small; avoid the area on weekends when crowds arrive. Be careful and don't try scrambling to someplace unsafe for a better view: a hiker fell and died here in September 2016.

Teneriffe Falls
After enjoying Teneriffe Falls, we backtracked slightly until we came to the faint, unmarked junction for the Kamikaze Trail, which left to the uphill side of the Teneriffe Falls and began a relentless, immediate ascent. We ascended 2200 feet to the summit of Mount Teneriffe in the next mile along the Kamikaze Trail, a brutal ascent with grades easily matching those found on the Old Trail at Mailbox Peak and the ascent to Aasgard Pass in the Enchantments. The trail was not clearly marked but was still relatively easy to follow, generally tracing a route along the southern ridge of Mount Teneriffe.

Halfway up the Kamikaze Trail, we reached the snowline. Following the trail in the snow was actually easier than following the trail without snow, as we were now able to trace the abundant amount of previous footsteeps up the mountain. I put on microspikes to better deal with hiking on snow on a steep incline.

As we approached the summit, occasional treebreaks to the south revealed sweeping views of the North Bend valley and Mount Si. At this point, it was no longer clear if the tracks we were following truly followed the trail; it appeared as though we were simply making a beeline for the summit through two-feet deep snow. Constant postholing through the snow slowed our progress, but we finally made it out onto an extremely steep, open final slope which we battled up to reach the snow-covered summit fin.

Mount Si, North Bend, and the Issaquah Alps
The 360-degree view from atop Mount Teneriffe is the best view of any of the peaks surrounding the North Bend valley. To the west, the Seattle and Bellevue skylines rose above the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, respectively, while the Brothers, Mount Anderson, and Mount Constance dominated the Olympic skyline. Mount Baker's snowy cone was visible to the north and the eastern skyline was dominated by a line of peaks defining the watershed of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, including Garfield Mountain and Mailbox Peak. Well-loved I-90 peaks such as Mount Defiance, Mount McClellan, Mount Washington, Mount Si, and Rattlesnake Mountain were also visible. Regal Rainier rose above all to the south.

Seattle, with Mount Anderson and Mount Constance rising in the distance
Rainier seen from the summit of Teneriffe
We spent a little while at the summit admiring the view and ran into a hiker who had come up the mountain via the Mount Teneriffe Road Trail, which was our intended route of descent. We were lucky to have run into him, as we hadn't seen where that route joined with the Kamikaze Trail on our ascent. Our new acquaintance guided us down from the summit to the turnoff for the connector trail to the Mount Teneriffe Road Trail. We were never really sure if we were following the trail exactly as we were hiking in three to five feet deep snow, but we followed the ridge generally through the snow until we came upon a wider clearing in the forest that seemed like a former logging road, about a half mile of ridge hiking after leaving the summit.  From here, we followed this path until it came to a saddle, intersecting a broad hairpin in a former logging road. We took the left fork here, following this decommissioned road (the Mount Teneriffe Road) westward along the south side of the ridge connecting Mount Si to Mount Teneriffe. Spots along the road yielded views back towards the Mount Teneriffe summit.

Teneriffe seen from the Mount Si connector trail
The next mile and a half or so hiking followed the former Mount Teneriffe Road through the forested high slopes on a ridge. Winter snow cover was quite deep, exceeding six to eight feet in places. At points, meltwater streams cut entirely through the snowpack, forcing us to slide down six-foot deep ravines in the snow and climbing back up the opposite snowbank to continue on the trail.

Snowy connector trail towards Mount Si
After following this trail for almost an hour, we came to a clearing with a pretty view of Mount Rainier, Rattlesnake Ledge, Rattlesnake Lake, and Mount Si.

Mount Rainier and the valley of North Bend
Mount Si
Past this clearing, we soon came to a trail junction; no sign was visible at the junction, at least not with five feet of snow on the trail. We took the left fork and followed the road trail as it began a gradual descent through switchbacks.

As we descended through four miles of road trail, the snow gradually diminished until it was all gone and we were hiking on the road itself. Although I had been annoyed at how snow slowed my progress earlier, I became even more annoyed at how rocky the trail was through this descent: don't expect it to be kind on your knees. Towards the base of Mount Teneriffe, we passed a junction with a connector to the Talus Loop Trail, staying left at the intersection, before finally returning to the flatter terrain of the North Bend Valley. In the last mile of trail, the road trail rejoined the road trail on which we started, bringing us back to the trailhead.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Green Mountain (Kitsap Peninsula)

Seattle skyline with ferries on Puget Sound from Green Mountain summit
5 miles round trip, 1050 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Easy-moderate
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Washington State Parks Discover Pass required for parking

Green Mountain, the second highest point on the Kitsap Peninsula, situated in the heart of the Puget Sound region, is a relatively easy and straightforward hike that offers good views of the Seattle skyline and the Cascades from its summit and of the Olympic Mountains along the trail itself. This peak is one of many named Green Mountain in Washington State; it is probably an easier hike than any of the other peaks in the state that shares its name and although its views may not be as spectacular as that of Green Mountain along the Suiattle River, it is a worthy hike for Sound residents looking for a good low-elevation hike during the winter. Spring is also a reasonable time to visit to see the rhododendrons along the trail bloom. Warmer seasons may bring a less peaceful experience with more mountain bikers, motorcyclists, and ATVs, all of which are allowed on the trails in the Green Mountain State Forest. The Washington State Department of Natural Resources, which manages the area, provides an excellent map for hiking in the area.

I hiked this trail on a clear January day, driving out from Seattle early in midmorning along I-5 south and taking Route 16 northwest across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge past Gig Harbor towards Bremerton. Just before reaching Bremerton, I took the left exit for Route 3 towards Belfair and Shelton. When the road coming off of the exit reached an intersection with Route 3, rather than turning onto Route 3, I stayed straight through the light on a small road that quickly came to a T-intersection with the Old Belfair Highway. I turned left here and followed the road west six miles to Bear Creek-Dewatto Road, which branched off to the right of the Old Belfair Highway. I took a right onto Bear Creek-Dewatto, following it uphill for two miles and past Tiger Lake to the Gold Creek Road; here I made another right turn and followed the road north for two miles to the well-marked Gold Creek trailhead, where there was ample parking.

A recent cold snap and prior snowstorms left a couple inches of snow on the ground at the trailhead; thus, when I headed out onto the Gold Creek Trail, which left from the north end of the parking lot, I followed the trail through snow for the first couple hundred meters. Here, the forested Green Mountain was visible rising in the distance above the snow-covered trail.

Snowy trail near the Gold Creek Trailhead
About four hundred meters from the trailhead, the trail made a sharp right turn and became much broader as it began to follow a former roadbed. The ground underfoot was crunchy due to the abundance of needle ice in cold weather.

Needle ice
 Following the trail along this old road, Gold Creek itself soon came within earshot. The road stayed high above the south bank of the river, but a few use trails led down to obstructed views of cascades on the creek.

Cascades on Gold Creek
Soon afterwards, the trail reached and crossed a well-built bridge over Gold Creek and came to a trail junction. Straight ahead was the Davis Trail, which followed the base of Green Mountain; I took the fork for a sharp left turn to stay on the Gold Creek Trail. Soon afterwards, I came to a second junction with the Plummer Trail, which split to the left; I stayed to the right and continued along the Gold Creek Trail.

From here, the Gold Creek Trail began to climb through a nice second-growth forest littered with madrones and rhododendron. This section of trail would undoubtedly be beautiful in May when the rhododendrons bloom. The trail climbed steadily through a set of shallow switchbacks before splitting off into two directions halfway through the ascent. Both paths were labelled as the Gold Creek Trail; the paths diverged briefly before rejoining in a few hundred meters. It's fairly inconsequential which path you decide to follow.

After the two threads of the Gold Creek Trail reconvened, the trail flattened out as it followed the upper slopes of Green Mountain. About a mile and a half from the trailhead, the trail very suddenly emerged into a recent clearcut, a reminder that Green Mountain State Forest is managed for resource harvesting and not just recreation.

While some hiking purists may balk at the prospect of hiking through a recently logged area, others will appreciate the extraordinary views of the Olympic Mountains at the clearcut. This logged-over area provides the best views of the hike, with a 180-degree view to the west of the Olympic skyline including Ellinor, Washington, Stone, the Brothers, Jupiter, Constance, Buckhorn, and Townsend. Frozen Lake Tahuya was visible in the foreground on the Kitsap Peninsula while the Hood Canal was also visible in the distance to the northwest, separating the Kitsap from the Olympic Peninsula.

Olympics rising over frozen Tahuya Lake
Olympics rising above Hood Canal, viewed from the clearcut
Starting from the clearcut to the summit, the trail was fully snow-covered; I put on microspikes for better traction on the sometimes slippery trail. Shortly after entering the clearcut, I came to a junction with the Plummer Trail; once again, I stayed straight through this junction and continued generally uphill through the logged area. Soon afterward, the trail crossed a logging road that was not marked on the DNR maps.

Snow-covered logging road through clearcut
After skirting the edge of the forest for a little while, the Gold Creek Trail reentered the trees and came to a junction with the Wildcat and Vista Trails. The Wildcat Trail, to the left, led downhill to another trailhead, while the Vista Trail to the right continued towards the Green Mountain summit. I followed the Vista Trail for the last half mile through the forest, climbing gradually and passing the snow-covered upper parking lot for summit access until coming to the end of the trail, where I found a number of snow-covered picnic tables and a rock outcrop with a view, with its edges lined with a protective fence.

This summit vista was fairly narrow, mainly facing east and south; a number of trees growing below the outcrop were beginning to block portions of the view. I imagine that within a decade, the forest here will be tall enough that there will be no view left.

The most notable aspect of the view was the Seattle skyline with its skyscrapers arrayed along the shores of Elliott Bay, with a backdrop of craggy Cascade peaks rising behind it. Many notable Seattle landmarks were clearly identifiable from here, including the Columbia Center, the Smith Tower, the Space Needle, CenturyLink Field, 1201 Third Avenue, the UW Tower, and Union Square. Bremerton was also visible to the right of Seattle, across the Sound; navy ships at Naval Base Kitsap- Bremerton could be seen along the Sinclair Inlet. In the distance, SeaTac Airport was visible across the Sound and many peaks in the Snoqualmie Pass corridor were distinguishable, including Mount Si, Mailbox Peak, and McClellan Peak.

Snoqualmie Pass corridor peaks and Naval Base Kitsap- Bremerton
Glacier Peak was the most easily visible stratovolcano from the viewpoint, rising prominently to the east. Mount Rainier was also easily visible, though partially obscured by communications towers rising from Gold Mountain, Green Mountain's southern neighbor. Attentive hikers may be able to spot the crater of Mount St. Helens to the south and Mount Adams is visible but partially obscured as well.

Glacier Peak
Due to the frigid temperatures, I briefly enjoyed the views and then made my way back to the trailhead before sunset, taking care in the particularly slippery partially snow-covered sections along the Gold Creek Trail where microspikes were impractical.