Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Don’t Forget Your Snowshoes on your Early Season Hike

Whenever possible I try to drop in and visit Edie Aydelott at the Destination Packwood office. This last week, we talked about the snow. The massive amounts of it, preventing access onto the traditional trails in the foothills. The question was, how would it impact tourism early this summer? A year ago this weekend, my family and I hiked up to Packwood Lake and crossed just a couple of patches of snow. Those conditions are four to possibly six weeks away. The early season is looking troublesome for anyone that enjoys spending time in the high country. We should all be rejoicing for the above average snowfall and what it means for seasonal water supplies, but clearly, I have a very egotistic frame of mind when it comes to my summer backcountry excursions.

Like a cat needing to get outdoors, I have been scratching my own internal calendar for several weeks. My son and I decided to see what the foothills have to offer at this early season juncture. I picked a simple trip to Cathedral Falls, a 0.5 mile hike toward Tumwater Mountain and Vanson Lake on the Goat Creek Trail. It was a just about a year ago, that I first learned about this gem and stumbled my way to it with not a lick of snow in sight.

The falls are a popular local’s choice, but the Goat Creek area is not exactly the Wonderland Trail that is so heavily traveled or access maintained, at Mount Rainier National Park. Goat Creek drains the north slopes of Goat Mountain in the Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument. It is well outside the blast zone, so coverage of the area in guide books is less than intense and clearly escapes the interest of passing tourists.

To get there, turn onto Kosmos Road between Morton and Glenoma and follow the signs to Taidnapam Park. Cross the bridge over the Cowlitz River and turn right. Continue through an open gate (during fire season, this gate is often closed to protect private lands despite blocking access to public lands) and go for another mile or so, ignoring a couple of minor roads to the left. You will come to a three-way fork in the road, the one to the right has a gate. Take the farthest left fork. This is now USFS road #2750. There is no signage or any indication you are on the right road. Have faith!

Traveling any forest road in the spring, especially in my little Elantra adds an element of heart palpitation. Regular early season users often carry chainsaws so until you run into actual snow, trees are usually cut and shoved off to the side. Nobody reaches the dozen or so trees that blew over and are leaning against other trees and threaten to fall with a wisp of air movement as you pass by it. I kept imagining the trees falling after we drove up hill, trapping us without a saw in my trunk.

About a mile short of the trailhead, the snow became a barrier so I maneuvered my car into a downhill parking spot and started up the trail on foot. Of course there was the annual telltale sign of macho bravado where someone had insisted his truck could make it through the snow, trapping him for what was probably an hour or two until he was able to maneuver free. The scars will show in the road for years to come.

My son and I began our hike in the snow which got deeper and deeper. “My kingdom for a pair of snowshoes” I thought. Nearly an hour later, we had not even reached the trailhead. Disappointed, disgusted and ill-prepared, we turned around and headed back down the hill.

I knew there was a lot of snow in the Cascades this spring, but I am not sure we had reached 2000 feet yet and there was a ton. It may be a month before hikers without special equipment reaches Cathedral Falls, but when they do, the heart of the snow-melt season will put on an awesome display

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