Moms in the Methow

Last weekend Lindsay and I headed to the Methow Valley for what might have to become an annual Dirtbag Moms Weekend. Lindsay and I both have amazing kiddos, but up until last weekend, Lindsay had yet to be away from her 1-yr old for more than 12 consecutive hrs… so it was time! In addition, her adorable 1-yr old is not yet sleeping through the night on a regular basis… so adventure was our priority, but sleep and relaxation weren’t far behind. As Lindsay put it, she was really excited to NOT wake up to someone screaming at her in the morning. (I briefly contemplated knocking on her van window and screaming “MAMA!” at 5 am, but ultimately decided against it. Next time!)

We tried to get Methow local and fellow coach Alison to join us, but she’s pregnant, caring for a toddler, and fighting a summer cold (when you have a toddler, summer colds are a thing), so she couldn’t make it. Instead she gave us lots of great trail ideas. Thanks Alison!

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Dirtbag Moms, unite!

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Livin the dream, where “the dream” = camping in a creepy white van for the weekend and not being responsible for a single living being other than yourself.

Day 1 – Driveway Butte-ish

We met up Sunday late afternoon at the Driveway Butte trailhead. Alison had mentioned that Driveway Butte might be snow-free, so we decided to make a half-assed early evening attempt at reaching the old lookout site. With sunset at 830 pm, we figured we’d have just enough time to make it up and back before dark, assuming there wasn’t any snow. Unfortunately, we hit snow on a north-facing slope at around 5100 ft, just under 3 miles in. We postholed around for 20 minutes before heading back down. If you’re determined, you can make it to the top. We weren’t feeling determined. Or rather, we were determined… to curl up in the back of our comfy vans and get some sleep.

Other important details about Driveway Butte: Currently plenty of water up there, what with all the snowmelt. Although we didn’t get to the top, it was still a good outing: gloriously snow-free until 5100 ft, slopes abloom with balsamroot, and gorgeous views of the North Cascades. Road was snow-free and suitable for all vehicles. And not another soul in sight on a sunny Sunday evening. Total for the evening was a little less than 6 miles and 2100 ft of climbing.

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Silver Star as seen from Driveway Butte trail

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Slopes of Driveway Butte, with Hwy 20 snaking up towards Washington Pass in the distance

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Dusk at Driveway Butte with the Needles (?) in the background

 

Day 2 – Twisp River and Twisp Pass trails

The next morning I woke up before Lindsay and let her snooze while I went to the Mazama Store and got some work done. Lindsay met me an hour later, we had some breakfast on the outdoor patio, and then headed for the day’s objective: Twisp River trail to Twisp Pass. I admit that late starts are not my typical m.o., but it was actually pretty nice to sit outside in the sun, unhurriedly sipping coffee and eating scones and bagels. I will never turn down a pre-dawn start, but relaxed mornings are fun too.

We made the long but scenic drive out Twisp River Rd until we reached the wash-out (pictured below). We deemed the wash-out passable by my AWD van, but not Lindsay’s VW camper. We were looking for time-on-our-feet anyway, so we parked before the wash-out and ran the road to the clearly signed Scatter Creek trailhead, where we picked up the Twisp River trail.

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Wash out on Twisp River Rd, approx 2 miles before Scatter Creek trailhead.

The Twisp River trail, from Scatter Creek trailhead to its end at the Twisp Pass trail junction, is in great condition. Although the Twisp River is rarely visible along the trail, let alone accessible, there are plenty of creek crossings where you can refill bottles and splash your face. Zero blowdowns. Small patches of snow start at 3900 ft and by the time we reached the junction with Twisp Pass trail, the trail was completely covered, but we were fine without flotation or traction.

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We’d like to think we were the first on the trail this year. OK, maybe the first to access the trail via Scatter Creek. OK, maybe the first to access the trail via Scatter Creek who bothered to sign the log. Whatever. A blank register is still cool!

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Abandoned building in the “town” of Gilbert.

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Creepier than my van.

 

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Twisp River trail just after Gilbert

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Grabbing fresh water from raging North Creek. In the morning the water was cool and clear. In the afternoon, on our way back, the water was had become silty with glacial run-off.

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Glacier lilies popping up through the snow along the Twisp River trail

 

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We missed this junction the first time through, and went about 1/2 mile up the North Lake trail accidentally. You want to turn left here to stay on Twisp River Trail. Straight ahead takes you to North Lake. If you’re paying attention and not yabbering with your friend, you should be fine.

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Snow near the junction of Twisp River and Twisp Pass trails.

We went about 1 mile up Twisp Pass trail, to a rocky outcropping with gorgeous views. Twisp Pass trail had approximately half-dozen blowdowns, as well as extended sections of rotten snow that did a great job of hiding tree wells and rock wells. Although the trail was 100% covered at the Twisp River/Twisp Pass trail junction, coverage became patchy again as we wrapped back around to the south. The rocky outcropping itself was snow-free and would make a great camp site.

We stopped at the rocky outcropping, sat in the sunshine, took a bunch of pictures, and attempted to identify the surrounding peaks. While Lindsay dried her feet I went a bit further up the trail, and conditions remained the same: patchy rotten snow, occasional blowdowns, minor route-finding required. As with Driveway Butte, if you hit the trail at a reasonable hour and are willing to deal with some annoying post-holing, you could likely make it to Twisp Pass.

Our total for the day was just under 20 miles and 3k of gain (this includes a few accidental and intentional side trips).

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View from the rocky outcropping. Hock Mountain on the right.

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Trying to get a photo of both of us AND the mountains. Very difficult. (Hock on left, Twisp Mountain on right.)

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Abernathy Peak in the back left

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Dinner at East 20 Pizza. Planning world domination…. or eating a pepperoni.

Day 3 – Ridin bikes!

We woke up to yet another crappy day in the Methow. Birds chirping, sun shining, flowers blooming. How do people even live here?

Back to Mazama Store we went for coffee and breakfast. And then it was time for some bike riding. Lindsay used to ride her bike really fast for really short periods of time, so I made her pull me up and down Lost River Rd and Hwy 20.

 

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My view for most of the morning.

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#leaningmybikeagainstsomething

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I have major mustache-glove envy!

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Just another crappy day in the Methow

 

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Packing up to head home: socks aren’t supposed to stand up by themselves.

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We drove slowly and stared at the mountains on our way home (Vasiliki Ridge and Silver Star from a pull-out on Highway 20)

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If this looks like your idea of heaven, Lindsay’s van is for sale!

 

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Close-up of Silver Star
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Waptus River

Quick update on Waptus River trail conditions:

The road to Salmon La Sac trailhead is paved and suitable for all cars, until the last 3/4 mile. The last 3/4 mile has a few larger potholes and two very small patches of snow that will almost certainly be gone by this weekend. If you’re concerned about the potholes, you can always park where the pavement ends and walk the relatively short distance to the trailhead.

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Cooper River view, right at the start of the trail

As for the trail, there was very little snow in the first mile, and then snow coverage gradually increased until the trail was mostly snow-covered by mile 5 (my turnaround point). The snow was anywhere from 2 inches to 2+ feet deep. Mostly consolidated, with a few rotten sections where weak snow bridges were forming over the trail. There were approximately 10-15 blowdowns and a fair amount of debris on the trail, as well as several sections of mud and standing water. Everything was passable, although my feet didn’t stay dry..

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Typical trail conditions after mile 2ish

At approx 3.5 miles you cross Hour Creek. The trail leads down to an obvious ford, but I was feeling like a princess and didn’t want to submerge my feet, so I wandered downstream approx 50 ft and used a narrow but very stable log instead.

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Hour Creek ford

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Log across Hour Creek – approx 50 ft downstream from the ford

Just after crossing Hour Creek you reach a small campsite. There’s still some snow on the ground, but currently there are at least 2-3 snow-free spots to pitch a tent. I saw a sign pointing to a pit toilet, but didn’t see the toilet itself, so I assume it’s still buried under snow.

The campsite also offers views upstream to a big waterfall. This would make a nice, albeit short, early season backpacking destination – probably less crowded than Barclay Lake or other trails with similar mileage and elev gain. It’s also on the dry side of the Cascades! The only caveat is that the water crossings and snow coverage might be a little too difficult for small children.

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Hour Creek campsite

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View upstream from campsite

I continued approx 1.5 miles beyond Hour Creek, and turned around where the trail rejoins the Waptus River. I’m looking forward to exploring the area more this summer!

 

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Long weekend on the East Slopes

I spent last weekend car-camping east of the Cascades, enjoying the sunshine, checking out various trails and snow levels, hanging with family, and getting in a long run in the Entiat. I brought my laptop and phone with me and set up a fairly functional mobile office in the van. It was a good weekend, but it’s also nice to be back in my own bed. #Vanlife is great but there is a lot to be said for hot showers and an actual living space – especially back here in wet Western Washington.

Trail conditions and other details below.

Friday April 28

Nason Ridge:

Date hike with Tom! We decided to head up Nason Ridge, starting from the trailhead near Kahler Glen. In general the trail is in reasonable condition.  A bit wet and muddy the first mile. We started hitting patchy snow around 2500 ft. By 3000 ft the trail was consistently covered in snow.  The snow was generally consolidated but with the occasional posthole to keep things fun.  We turned around after approx 3 miles, at 3200 ft, where the trail intersects a logging road.  The clearing at our turnaround point provided some good views of Big Jim Peak to the south. We also had relatively frequent views throughout the hike of Dirtyface Peak across Lake Wenatchee.

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Dirtyface as seen from the Nason Ridge trail

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Taking photos of taking photos (photo taken at approx 2500 ft – patchy snow)

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Tom in front of “Big Red,” a giant ponderosa pine.

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Big Jim on the horizon

 

Saturday April 29

Lake Wenatchee State Park

On Saturday night, Rowan and I took a girls-only camping trip to Lake Wenatchee State Park (Tom had to be back in Seattle to work at the distillery.)  The park website said only the south campground was open, but we were pleasantly surprised to find the north campground open as well. Ultimately we ended up camping at site 17, which is a big site right next to the lake. It would probably be a super sweet spot on a warm summer day, but it was pretty windy when we were there and we might’ve been better off in a more sheltered site. Other sites that looked good and were more sheltered were 96 and 188.

It rained on and off, but paused long enough for us a to roast marshmallows and eat smores. We spent the rest of the evening snuggled up in the van, reading and laughing and singing songs from Moana. (“I’m so SHINY!!!!!!!!”) We fell asleep to the sound of the rain tapping on the van roof.

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Snuggled up in the van, waiting out the rain.

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Not exactly beach weather (Lake Wenatchee and Dirtyface Peak)

 

Sunday May 30

Hidden Lake:

Sunday morning dawned relatively clear and sunny at Lake Wenatchee. Tom rejoined us, and our little family of three headed to Hidden Lake, which is located at the north end of Lake Wenatchee. The road to the trail head was clear of snow until approx 1/4 mile before the trailhead. The last 1/4 mile of road, though snow-covered, was easily walkable without any special gear (even for our 6 yr old), and will likely be completely melted out in the next week or so.

The trail itself was in good condition. No blowdowns, a few patches of easily navigable snow. We did the out-and-back route, rather than the loop described on the WTA website, and we did not cross the outlet stream (looked a little too sketchy for a small child). A really nice family hike!

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Hidden Lake with these two ❤

 

Lower Mad River Loop:

After our family hike, Tom and Rowan headed back to Seattle while I headed further east towards the Entiat. My original plan was to do an out-and-back up the Lower Mad River trail, going as far as I could until I hit substantial snow. I talked to a FS employee who said they had done recent maintenance on the first 3 miles of the Lower Mad River trail, but I wasn’t sure what to expect after that. I reached the Pine Flats campground/Lower Mad River trailhead around 2 pm, and off I went. It was warm and sunny, there were butterflies flitting about, and it felt like spring had finally arrived!

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A good example of the first three miles of the Lower Mad River trail 

The Lower Mad River trail is in great shape, particularly the first 3 miles. Just past the 3 mile mark, at approx 2000 ft, the trail switchbacks up the canyon wall through a field of balsamroot, and then meanders through shady groves of ponderosa pine above the river. There were a few blowdowns through this section, but everything was easily passable. It was at this point, when I was a couple hundred feet above the river, that I started itching to get some views from even higher up on the ridge. I kept following the Lower Mad River trail until I reached Camp 9, which was approximately 6-7 miles from the trailhead, depending on whether you believe the map or the GPS.

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Half-way up the short section of switchbacks, looking down on the trail below. I didn’t get a nice shot of the balsamroot, but it was in peak bloom on this slope.

 

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Views from the forested slopes

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Blue skies, sunshine, smell of warm pine

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One of a handful of blow-downs on the trail between miles 3 – 7 (no blowdowns before mile 3).

As has been mentioned in previous trip reports, Camp 9 isn’t really much of a camp. There is a small fire pit, and room enough for a small 1-2 person tent or bivvy. Definitely not a “destination camp” (see photo below). Camp 9 is at an elevation of approx 2700 ft, and there was still no sign of snow. I looked at my map and realized that I could easily access Tyee Ridge from Camp Nine, via some brief off-trail travel and a long stretch of forest service road. From Tyee Ridge I would be able to get a better sense of snow levels, and could then loop back to my car instead of doing an out-and-back as planned. I’m a sucker for loops.

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“Camp” Nine – not much of a camp, but it’d work in a pinch.

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I decided to go right here, towards Tyee Ridge, and see if I could find snow (nada).

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Views of the Lower Mad River from FS 5703

 

I traveled FS 5703 as it traversed below Tyee Ridge for approx 8 miles. Although I ultimately got sick of the road running, the views were gorgeous and it was cool to see the Lower Mad River from high above.

My highest elevation along Tyee Ridge was 3200 ft, and I was able to see clearly above me to approx 3600 ft, where there was still no snow. Just lots of sunshine and ponderosa pines. Oh, and ticks. There were also ticks.  I found several crawling around on my dog, and two on me. Considering we spent a bit of time scrambling around off-trail, that’s not too bad. No snakes, even when we were down close to the river, which surprised me, although I’m not complaining.

The last part of this loop was on a paved road, which wasn’t my favorite. I cut several switchbacks to save time and treat my feet to some softer terrain, which made the descent back to the trailhead a bit more bearable. I reached the car as the sun was starting to set, for a total of  approx 17 miles and just under 3000 ft of gain for the loop.

 

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Bighorn sheep scat in FS 5703. Paws for scale.

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FS 5703 is almost entirely snow-free, except for this patch. This is also the location of the only tree across the road, which is about 2 miles from the Camp Nine trailhead.

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Feline footprints

 

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If you have to run road, this isn’t too bad.

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Views of Devil’s Backbone from Tyee Ridge Rd

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Sun dropping below the hills as I reached the car

 

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Lower Mad River loop – approx 17 miles and a little under 3k of gain

 

Monday, May 1

Saddle Rock trail, Wenatchee:

I camped again on Sunday night and then started the drive home Monday morning. Along the way, I stopped at Saddle Rock just outside of Wenatchee for another hit of wildflowers. I admit I’d never paid much attention to the foothills outside of Wenatchee, but after reading this trip report I decided it was definitely worth a stop on my way home. Saddle Rock was scenic, not too crowded, and a great leg-stretcher.

All in all, a fun and mostly sunny weekend east of the Cascades!

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Saddle Rock sunflowers

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Kayaker playing in the Wenatchee River on the drive home

 

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Springtime on the Suiattle

Quick trip report for several trails in the Suiattle River area. On Monday I took the Suiattle River trail to the PCT junction, and then headed north on the PCT.  I traveled on the PCT north for 2.5 miles until reaching the Image Lake/Miner’s Ridge junction, where I took a left and started climbing. I was nearing my turn-around time, but I figured I’d hit snow soon and that would be that. I was pleasantly surprised to make it all the way to 4000 ft on the Miner’s Ridge trail with minimal snow.  At 4000 ft and 12 miles from the Suiattle River trailhead, I hit a big patch of snow as the trail curved towards the north. I wallowed around postholing for a couple steps and then turned back. I’d already gone farther than planned and was potentially going to be late for dinner.

That said, I couldn’t see around the corner, so I’m not sure if consistent snow coverage starts at 4000 ft… or if that was just an intermittent patch on the north side! Either way, I was pleasantly surprised to make it so far on the Miner’s Ridge trail. It was a cold and wet winter, for sure, but spring does seem to be making an appearance in some parts of the mountains.
My Suunto (GPS) reported approx 24 miles and 3400 ft of gain for the day.

Trail conditions:
Suiattle River trail: As has been recently reported by others, the Suiattle River trail is clear of snow from start to finish, and good for 14 miles round-trip of smooth sailing. There were just a couple blowdowns that were very easy to get around.  There were also a few mud pits and multiple stream crossings, but nothing significant. I managed to keep my feet clean and dry all day.

PCT northbound: The short section of the PCT  that I traveled (from Suiattle River junction to Image Lake junction) was in good shape and snow-free. A few blowdowns and some more debris on the trail, but nothing major. My guess is that you could continue northbound on the PCT for at least another mile or two without encountering snow.

Image Lake/Miner’s Ridge: From the Image Lake/PCT junction to 4000′ (my turnaround point), the trail is in great shape: no blowdowns, minimal mud, and as mentioned above, minimal snow up to 4000 ft (and possibly beyond).

I should mention that most of these trails are south-ish facing. As I climbed up towards Miner’s Ridge, I looked across the valley and could see snow on north-facing slopes below me.

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Happy place

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Suiattle River trail in excellent condition

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Unexpected mountain views (Fortress?)

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My turnaround point. This was the most snow I encountered all day (i.e., not a lot)

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Olympic Wilderness Coast – Southern Loop

I spent some time browsing tide tables this winter and decided that early April, with reasonably low tides during daylight hours, would be a great time to explore the Olympic Coast. As the date approached, I was thrilled to see that the low tides were going to line up with one of only a handful of sunny and warm days that Western Washington has experienced since October!

True to the forecast, Monday was a gorgeous spring day, and I had a great time traveling down the southern Olympic Wilderness coast on two wheels, and then traveling back up on foot. My route is mapped below, and the GPX file is here.

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Bike (in red) – approx 37 miles and 2000 ft of gain. Hike (in blue) – approx 17 miles and 3000 ft of gain (according to Caltopo, anyway – that seems kinda high to me)

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Stoked on the ferry

I drove to the coast from Seattle on Sunday night and camped in my van near the Third Beach trailhead. I was up and making coffee by 6 am, and ready to roll by 7 am, just as the sun was rising. The morning was beautiful – crisp and clear, but still cold enough to keep the bugs at bay.

I’ve got some summer objectives that will involve hauling heavy loads on bike and foot, so I wasn’t very weight-conscious when packing for this trip. I figured a heavy pack would be good training. I took my entire running vest, including food and 1 liter of water, and placed it in a 35-liter climbing pack. Then I threw in a bike lock, flat kit, trekking poles, and my running shoes. I also had bright flashing front and rear bike lights for visibility (not to see, but to be seen). Finally, I had two full water bottles on my bike frame, plus some easily accessible bike snacks. It wasn’t a light load, and I definitely felt it, especially when climbing hills . A good reminder that light is right, whether on foot or bike.

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My whip(s)

I rode my GT Grade with 35c tires.  I started early, partly in an attempt to beat traffic and partly because of the tides. This paid off on La Push Rd, where there was very little traffic in the early morning, and most of it was headed the opposite direction, towards La Push. By the time I hit Hwy 101, however, the roads were busy. Hwy 101 is certainly ride-able between La Push Rd and Oil City Rd, but be prepared for heavy truck traffic and narrow shoulders covered in gravel and road debris. I had heard that Oil City Rd was entirely gravel, so I was pleasantly surprised to make the right onto Oil City Rd and find myself flying down a smooth, paved descent. That ended within a few miles, and the rest of the road consisted primarily of gravel with some short muddy sections. In summary, my “EnduRoad” bike (as GT calls it) was a good choice for this route, but you could also do it on a road bike, especially if you use GatorSkins or a similarly tough tire to avoid punctures from the glass and other debris on the shoulder of Hwy 101.

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Dawn on La Push Rd

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One of the more scenic sections of Oil City Rd

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Clearly the river has changed course over the years (note the mailboxes on the left)

When I got to the trailhead at the end Oil City Rd, there were a couple cars parked there, but no one in sight. The trailhead is in a forested area, with plenty of places to stash a bike. I hid mine behind a giant stump, changed into running shoes, and put all my bike gear (helmet, flat kit, etc) into my big pack. I then locked up my bike and my big pack, put on my running vest, and headed out on two feet.

It was approximately 10:45 when I hit the trail, and low tide (0.24 ft) was at 12:46 at La Push. I easily made it past the first couple rocky outcroppings (passable at 2 ft and 3 ft tides, according to my Custom Correct map) and into Jefferson Cove, where I climbed a rope ladder and a steep muddy trail to access the first overland trail.

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Ocean, this way

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Approaching low tide near Oil City trailhead

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Pisaster! (I still remember something from undergrad)

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A pebble beach near Oil City

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Looking down the rope ladder you climb to access the first overland trail. It looks worse than it was.

The first overland trail was in OK shape. A few blowdowns, a lot of mudholes, but nothing impassable. I reached Mosquito Creek and wandered up and down the south bank of the creek for a couple minutes, looking for a good crossing spot. I didn’t want to cross too close to the ocean because if I stumbled I wanted a chance to right myself before getting swept out to sea. And I didn’t want to cross too far upstream because it widened considerably into almost a pond. Ultimately I just crossed where the trail comes out of the woods. The creek was icy cold and moving faster than it looked. At the deepest part, the water came up to my mid-thighs. I was glad for my trekking poles to help me stay upright.

I made it across Mosquito Creek, looked at my watch, and realized there was a chance I might not get to the next headland before the tide came in. Luckily the terrain from Mosquito Creek to the second overland trail is smooth, firmly packed sand and I was able to jog along and make up quite a bit of time. The second overland trail takes you to Goodman Creek, which I knew would be another ford. Goodman was just as cold as Mosquito Creek, but moving much more slowly and also a little shallower (although still above my knees). I had heard that Goodman could be sketchier than Mosquito, but I found the opposite to be true. Regardless, both were do-able.

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Goodman Creek ford

Shortly after Goodman Creek there is yet another ford at Falls Creek. I didn’t want to wade again, so I headed upstream towards the waterfall and found a solid flat log that made a perfect bridge. I brush-bashed my way back to the trail and was on my way, happy that the significant water crossings were now behind me.

The next section of coast went surprisingly fast. There were 3-4 miles of hard-packed sand, and although I had worried about making it past the next headland before high tide, thanks to the easy beach running I ended up with plenty of time. Even though the sun was shining and it was a lovely day, I was happy that I wouldn’t have to wait 12 hrs for the next low tide.

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Cliffs near Taylor Point

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Well-maintained section of overland trail just south of Third Beach

By the time I reached Scott’s Bluff I was starting to see a lot more people, and when I dropped down to Third Beach it was downright crowded. Everyone was smiling and in good spirits, playing in the sand or just watching the sun drop lower in the sky on a warm spring day. No longer in any hurry to make the tides, I took the last few miles slowly, wandering down the beach and along the relatively well-kept Third Beach trail, finally reaching the trailhead where I had left my van that morning. From there I drove back to the Oil City trailhead, picked up my bike and pack (undisturbed behind the tree, exactly as I left them), and then headed home. All in all, a super fun day on the coast!

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4th of July Pass via Thunder Creek

I was missing the North Cascades and also wanted to do a little recon for future adventures, so I decided to head up Thunder Creek towards 4th of July Pass. I did some research (satellite imagery, slope angles, weather, and NWAC forecast) and decided Monday was a good day to go. Unfortunately, “party cloudy” ended up more like “mostly cloudy/overcast” – but hey, it didn’t rain or snow, and I could see all of the peaks around me, so I’m not really complaining. However, I will use the flat grey light as an excuse for my less than stellar pics.

Road conditions: Hwy 20 was clear and dry! Yippeee! Colonial Creek Campground is still unplowed, with at least a couple feet of snow in the parking lot. That said, the plows have cleared a spot on the opposite side of the road (the Thunder Knob trailhead) so there is plenty of room for parking.

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Pretty sunrise as I drove across the Skagit

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Obligatory photo from Diablo Overlook (the parking lot is not yet plowed)

Trail conditions
Thunder Creek: There is a well-packed snowshoe trench through the Colonial Creek parking lot and campground to the Thunder Creek trailhead. Thunder Creek trail itself is also pretty packed down up until the bridge across Thunder Creek. In the morning I was able to get all the way to the bridge in just trail runners. The bridge across Thunder Creek is easily passable, but has a bunch of snow on it. Just don’t lose your balance. 🙂 On the other side of the bridge, things are much less-travelled. Once you cross Thunder Creek, route-finding/nav skills are required.

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Thunder Creek trail before the bridge

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Views of Thunder Creek from the Thunder Creek trail

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Bridge across Thunder Creek. Snow on bridge was approx 1-2 ft deep.

4th of July Pass: The climb up 4th of July Pass gets down to business pretty quickly, which was a good way to warm up on a chilly morning. I put snowshoes on at the base of the climb, only to take them off at 1800 ft! There is a cliffy area that clearly gets a good amount of sun, so I was walking on…. BARE TRAIL for approx 1/4 mile! Very exciting. But by approx 2000 ft the trail was snow-covered again. At approx 3000 ft the route starts to traverse some steep slopes, at which point I put on microspikes instead (see Gear for more details).

 

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Views from the rocky outcropping at approx 1800 ft. Davis Peak on the left, McMillan Spires peaking out in the background

After a long slog uphill in the snow, I finally reached a clearing in the trees – 4th of July Pass. I even spotted and excavated the wooden sign marking the pass, which was buried under snow. The views from the pass weren’t quite as astounding as WTA claims, but it was still so lovely just to be out there – there wasn’t precip falling on my head, I could see big wild mountains, and life was good. I am very grateful to live in a place that has so many lowland options during the winter… But nothing is quite like the North Cascades.

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Snowfield group from 4th of July Pass

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Buried sign at Fourth of July Pass

Gear: Trekking poles, snowshoes, microspikes. The trekking poles were handy from start to finish. In the morning, I didn’t need any traction or flotation until around 3000 ft on the 4th of July Pass trail, at which point I put on microspikes. The spikes were useful not so much because the trail climbs steeply, but more because the route traverses multiple steep slopes. The traction helped ensure I didn’t go side slipping down the hill. The slopes were all heavily treed, so you can’t really take a long fall, but the landing probably wouldn’t be comfortable.
I put the snowshoes on as I descended. The warm temps had softened things up considerably and without the snowshoes I was doing a lot of postholing. I wore them all the way back to the car (except for the section of bare trail at 1800 ft).

 

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Wallace Falls loop

Thanks to the latest round of fresh mountain snow immediately followed by pouring rain, I stuck to the lowlands yesterday and ran around in Wallace Falls State Park. While it’s not the most exciting terrain, the waterfalls were pumping, the forest was lush and green, and there was zero snow on the trail and zero avalanche risk.

I did a lollipop loop that consisted of heading out Woody Trail to the Upper Falls, and then continuing to the Upper Grade trail. I used Upper Grade to connect to the fun Greg Ball trail, which took me back to Woody Trail and the trailhead. My GPS had it at just under 10 miles and approx 2k of elevation gain.

Wallace Falls trail map

Wallace Falls Loop – approx 10 miles and 2k elev gain. I didn’t go to Wallace Lake and Jay Lake this time, but I’ve been up there in the past and they’re worth a visit, especially if you’re looking to add extra miles.

Directions are pretty straightforward and most intersections are well-signed: Leave the main parking lot on a wide gravel trail under power lines, and within 1/2 mile pick up the Woody Trail. Take the Woody Trail upstream, all the way to the Upper Falls.

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Typical terrain on the Woody Trail.

 

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Middle Falls – roaring

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Views downstream of Wallace Creek and the Skykomish River Valley beyond.

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Upper Falls

From the Upper Falls, the trail is marked by blue diamonds, but there is also a distinct footpath that is pretty easy to follow. Approximately 1/2 mile past the Upper Falls you reach the Upper Grade, a wide, double-track forest service road. Unfortunately a section of Upper Grade has been recently logged, but the freshly logged area only lasts for about 1/2 mile before you’re back in the woods. And on the plus side, it looks like they’ve plowed the road to make it easier for the logging trucks, which is how you end up with a snow-free run when many other trails at similar elevation are still covered.

After 2 miles on the Upper Grade, you reach the first junction to Wallace Lake. If you want to add on miles, this is a good option, although be prepared for some snow and slush (see photo below).

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Most of the junctions are very well-signed. Thanks Troop 53!

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Upper Grade

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The worst of the snow on Upper Grade – and with all the rain we’ve had the last couple days, it’s probably melting quickly.

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This is the first junction towards Wallace Lake. As you can see, it’s not snow-free if you head up to Wallace Lake (but still easy walking, no spikes or snowshoes needed).

Keep going past the first junction to Wallace Lake, and in another 1.5 miles you will pass a second junction towards Wallace Lake.  If you have the time and want to log some extra miles, Wallace and Jay lakes are pretty and worth a side-trip! For this loop, however, ignore the second trail to Wallace Lake and very shortly you’ll see the Greg Ball trail on the left. Drop down the Greg Ball trail and follow the fun, winding, single track all the way back to the Woody Trail. When you reach the Woody Trail, take a right and in approx 1.5 miles you’ll be back at your car.

I went on a Friday afternoon and only saw half-dozen people, which isn’t bad considering how many people in the Seattle area are currently crammed onto a limited number of lowland trails. The majority of the route is smooth single-track covered in pine needles, with just enough climbing to keep things interesting. All in all, a pretty good option if you’re looking for some snow-free/runnable terrain during this never-ending winter!

 

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