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.

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