It was forecast to rain (“heavy at times”) all day, which is part of why I chose Ned Hill – although it is the site of a former fire lookout, trees have long since blocked the view and the lookout tower itself is barely standing. It seemed appropriate to climb a hill with no views on a day when there wouldn’t be views anyway. However, as I reached the top of Ned Hill, the sun made a brief appearance and I was given a teaser of the snow-capped mountains guarding the Gray Wolf Valley. After coming down from Ned Hill, I decided that rather than continue my descent towards the Gray Wolf River, I would instead ascend the Deer Ridge trail. My plan was to hopefully catch a few more views at various clearings along the way, and see how high I could get before I reached snow.
Unfortunately the last time I saw the sun was on Ned Hill. The rest of the day was grey and wet, as forecast. However, the good news (or is it bad news) is that I barely encountered any snow on my way up to Deer Ridge.
Road conditions: Lots of potholes. It looked like a number of trees had come down across the road recently, but they were all cleared as of Monday Jan 29. I brought my chainsaw in the car just in case anything came down while I was there, but the road stayed clear. The road is snow-free until 1/2 mile before the Slab Camp trailhead, at which point it’s covered with slushy snow and ice. My Subaru with not-great tires had no problem.
Trail conditions – Ned Hill: Completely snow-free from bottom to top. I parked at the Slab Camp trailhead, and walked approx 1/2 mile up the road to the Ned Hill trailhead. This section of road had some snow/ice but it was easily passable without traction or flotation. The Ned Hill trailhead is easy to spot if you’re walking the road, but might be harder to find if you’re driving.
The trail itself is in pretty good condition. There are a few small blow-downs, it’s a bit brushy in places, and there’s a good layer of winter detritus on the trail, but overall it’s completely passable.
The “summit” is pretty anti-climactic – a bunch of trees, a few glimpses of the surrounding mountains, and an old fire lookout. In all honesty, this trail is probably not worth doing on its own, but it would be a great way to get in some elevation gain before a walk along the Gray Wolf River.
Trail conditions – Deer Ridge: Deer Ridge trail was completely snow-free until 3900 ft, which surprised me. Patchy snow started just after 3900 ft, and by 4100 ft the trail was covered in snow, but it was only 1-6 inches deep at most. I didn’t have or need snowshoes. That said, I was glad for poles and microspikes on the way down.
There are approximately 10 blowdowns on the Deer Ridge trail between Slab Camp TH and ridgeline. All are easily passable. See below for an example pic.