Monday, May 19, 2008

The Lena Lake Experience

Historically, I have not been a fan of the Olympics. It is true that I took my family there in 2006 and spent three days exploring the “exterior” of the peninsula. We visited Hurricane Ridge, Sol Duc Falls and the Hoe Rain Forest, but the experience of looking out over the range never intrigued me to the point of saying “I have to go out there”.

Bring on the winter of 07-08 and the massive snows of which I have had a love/hate relationship and the desperation to find quality, early season, yet snow-free trails. For this purpose, I should mention that I follow a couple of websites, most notably Washington Trails Association and to a lesser extent, Northwest Hiker where participants post information and photos about the hikes that they have taken. Still being a newbie to Washington, I read with great interest and have map for assistance in finding those hidden spots close to Lewis County.

Late last week, I noticed a name that kept coming up. I read the “hike reports” and checked the map. It was going to be right on the edge of the 2 hour drive from the local area. I searched trip reports from years passed looking for photos. Not too impressive, but what choice did I have. The boys and I got up early, grabbed a friend and headed towards Lena Lake.

Getting to Lena Lake means driving north to Olympia and then taking Highway 101 by Shelton and Hoodsport. 14.2 miles north of Hoodsport, take a left on Forest Road #25 and drive for about 7.5 miles. It is a well used trailhead and marked visibly from Highway 101. You will need a Northwest Forest Pass to park at the trailhead.

The trail to the lake climbs about 1000 feet in the first 2 miles, but it is really a rather moderate hike. The last mile rises a net elevation of 300 feet as you reach the Lena Lake Basin. The trail was in excellent condition for an early season hike until you reach the northern end of the lake. From there, the elements still had the upper hand with downed trees and on this weekend, flooding.

A group of boy scouts from Issaquah reported that the water rose enough to have them move uphill from the lakeshore on Saturday night. When they got up the next morning, their former tent site was completely under water.

Just in the two hours we were there, the water level rose about 6 inches and covered the trail on the north side of the lake near the East Fork of Lena Creek where you can access the falls.

In this photo, salal growing at the base of a cedar is covered by the rising water level. I would say several to six feet based on locations of trees.

I looked all over the web and there was nary a reference to the falls! I can see where most of the day hikers stopped at the viewpoint of the lake on the southwest bluff, but I urge visitors to continue on to at least the East Fork of Lena Creek's confluence into the lake itself. What a great spot to end a great hike on a day when the water was roaring with snow melt.

Temperatures climbed rapidly and snows melted quickly in the higher elevations. Water in the lake was rising fast and covered the trail. The upper bridge crossing at Lena Creek resulted in wet shoes and boots just to access the bridge. The increased flow meant something very special at the confluence of the East Fork Lena Creek and the lake. At that location, the creek drops about 90 feet and empties into the lake. Next time I go back, it will probably be so mundane with less water flow!

The aforementioned photos that I had observed of Lena Lake were few and far between. More importantly, they didn’t do the lake justice. The lake and the basin is stunning. As we crossed a trail junction to Upper Lena Lake or stopped well short of “The Brothers”, it was all my boys could do to keep me from going farther. In my mind I couldn’t help but say to myself, “I’ll be back“!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Looking Back at the High Points of the Spring Sports Season

I have had some great jobs in my life, but walking around Fort Borst Park the other night watching a smorgasbord of high quality fastpitch games made me realize this one ranks right up there in with the likes of great opportunities. There I was watching the defending 2007 State Champion Castle Rock playing against the 2006 champion Onalaska in a 5-4 slug-fest. In the field immediately to the east, Toutle Lake , a team that beat Castle Rock just last week in a non-league contest went two extra innings in a dramatic loss to Pe Ell. By the way, those two were among the five last teams left at state last year in their division.
While the season is coming to a close, it just seems fitting. I witnessed in what seems like a few weeks what every adult should see in kids, in teams and in sports. I loved watching the improvement of the Winlock boy’s baseball team and the Napavine girl’s fastpitch teams as they went from winless to respected in the waning days of the season. I remember the intensity of Mike Ayon as he was able to deflect a Rochester penalty kick to the left and deliver a victory for Toledo-Winlock United. I recall watching Onlaska’s, now district champion, Spencer Hunt as he won the 3200 meters, 1600 meters and then within 30 minutes came back to be apart of the winning 1600 meter relay in a very competitive race. As I watched that same track meet, I watched the Onalaska girl’s fastpitch team practice. When they finished up, and were packing up all of their gear, Hailey Givens asked Coach Bill Barnes if he could hit her some grounders. One after another, in almost a rhythmic dance, I heard the clink, bump, slap as the bat connected and hit a blistering roller or bouncer in her direction that was handled well and in quick succession returned to the coach. They were still there as I left the track meet.
Of course there was the hitting clinic of Castle Rock’s Zack Gehring on the day he hit three home runs and drove in 12 RBIs in a double header against Ilwaco. There was the incredible over the shoulder, game saving catch by Winlock’s Kayla Rakes that saved a victory for the Cardinals over Onalaska who is now playing in the post season. Finally, it will be years before I forget the agonizing scene that played out in a muddy fastpitch game between Adna and Toutle Lake . Rachel Dahlman had just collected the ball to make a tag on Adna’s Jessica-Jo Sandrini at home plate. A violent collision ensued and when the mud cleared, Dahlman and Sandrini lay on the ground with the yellow ball right between them, prompting a safe signal by the umpire.
The great events outweigh all of the mistakes I made just trying to find games in the early season (like driving to Morton on a rainy Saturday to find out the game had been moved to a drier field in Napavine). The raw fingers as I took notes and photographs in the rain, hail and wind. There was the endless search to try and photograph Ashlee Coffey throwing the shot and discus along with the plethora of Lady Indian track athletes in the other field events. Yes, and who can forget the baseball game between Rainier and Winlock that started on March 20th and ended on April 14th?
Everywhere I went, there was joy and excitement that seemed to give life to even those not on the field of play. Yes, I have had some great jobs before, but this one has satisfaction beyond all personal expectations.

Monday, May 12, 2008

An Old Growth Forest with a History

Jason Imes, a Lewis County weed program specialist tasked with guarding the National Forests from invasive weeds, mentioned a piece of the forest near the Cispus River he thought odd. Our mutual interests and knowledge find us sharing information on a fairly frequent basis. He drove the 2506 road to the very end to a place called Bluff Mountain and was curious about the vegetation there. He also described the area as being snow free. In light of recent excursions, the last statement caught my attention.

As he described the location, I remembered the fire history in the area. In June of 1918, the Cispus Burn altered the landscape of nearly 230,000 acres with a version of catastrophic wildfire. Let me think, views and natural history. It was worth a visit.

To get there, take Highway 131 (USFS RD 25) 6.1 miles south of Randle. Turn left onto Forest Road 2506 and go about 2 miles. At the junction of FS road 2506 and FS road 037 veer to the right and continue for about ½ more. There is no problem finding the Kraus Ridge Trail #275 on the left side of the road. The excitement is getting turned around on the road in the muddy conditions. The Kraus Ridge trail winds through old growth and “naturally maintained stands” that are roughly 90 to years old. In 1918, fire licked at the ridge, burning the forest to near 100% consumption, but clearly leaving the typical mosaic pattern of survivorship. Here and there, were signs of the huge 200 to 400 year old stands of Douglas Fir that stood here before the outset of the Cispus fire. Some of them survived. Many have fire scars that reached 60 feet on their fire resistant bark.

The forest along the trail is a natural history buff’s dream. Each turn into a new ravine illustrates how the winds of flame rode the landscape. By looking at the fire scares on the older trees, a visitor can see how a fire that was driven east to west by winds, turned around and ran west to east to follow the uphill topography, actually burning the ridge multiple times.

Instead of following the trail all the way to the east trailhead off of Forest Road 23 (Cispus Road), I chose to take a look at the spot Imes pointed out to begin with. After 3.2 miles on the trail, I turned right, onto the FS2306 road which parallels and then crosses the trail, and hiked to the end. About a mile later, I found myself at a dead end on the summit of Bluff Mountain. Just off the road, a viewpoint offers a dramatic look at the Cispus Valley below.

How about that for a Monday conversation that led to a great hike on Sunday; An experience that amounted to a cerebral walk in some big, historic woods.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Elk Died at Mount St. Helens, Here we go Again

It was a harsh winter. The price of gas rose unmercifully. We humans are having to make serious choices. Meanwhile, the long winter and deep snow pack in the Cascades caused a large die-off in the St. Helens area elk herd. It first hit the internet and new media on Thursday . Today, it made the front page of the local paper at the foot of Mount St. Helens itself.

Thus far, no sad photos have appeared in the media. Give that a few days as once again, folks all over the state and region will shed many tears for the elk. I have one word folks. It is nature. It is the natural way of culling the herd. Sure, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife trucked in 131 tons of hay to try and assist the herd, but clearly this was a vicious winter.

We have to consider why the WDFW is even trying to feed the herd. Sure, they were given an informal mandate in the last good winter of 2005-06 when about 60 elk died after a banner snow year and then late season snows. That figure probably didn’t include the 37 dead elk that I observed in the Upper Toutle and Coldwater Canyons that are outside of the Elk Refuge range, but within the boundaries of the National Volcanic Monument.

Predators made a return to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. The population of coyotes exploded in 2007 and there were many sightings of mountain lions near Coldwater Lake. Some might think that plenty of food during the winter and spring allowed a fragile population to have sucess.

I believe that the WDFW considers the answer to the problem can be solved by hunters. Fish and Wildlife has negotiated access into the most untraveled and scientifically sensitive areas of the Monument for the purpose of hunting. It is a case of humans trying to interfere with the natural process.

The elk in the Toutle Valley have multiple problems with their ecosystem.

#1-Much of the land is privately owned timberlands. After the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the timber was salvaged and then replanted. Those stands are now 28 year old, dog-hair, light free, mono-culture stands of Douglas Fir. Areas outside the National Volcanic Monument contain poor browse conditions, even in the mild, low elevation areas of the valley where elk historically have spent the winter to avoid the heavy snow packs in the high country.

#2-What was elk heaven is changing rapidly. The open, prairie landscape that appeared after the 1980 eruption and collapse of Mount St. Helens that supplied the ultimate Western Washington habitat for elk is disappearing. There is less browse as groves of alder try to take the landscape to the next level of climatic vegetation.

The bottom line is that elk are going to die. The landscape can’t support the population that it did during the late 1980s and the 1990s. The population is going to crash. So we have a choice, we can allow the corp of northwest hunters to go in and cull the biggest and the best, or we can allow nature to take the weakest. Regardless, the northwest is going to have to get used to seeing dead elk in the area of Mount St. Helens.

My History-The 2006 Mount St. Helens Elk Die-off

This is a blog post from April 11th, 2006 as I discovered dead elk in the Toutle River Canyon in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. Wildlife managers discovered this week that there was a large mortality rate among the elk this winter.

My efforts over the last few weeks were put to a bit of a litmus test yesterday. I am aware of two large winter-killed bulls just lying next to the rivers within the monument. If they still had their horns, we will have had some success avoiding the total lawless invasion that it feels like the monument has endured this past few weeks. Prepared to photo document horns cut cleanly with a hacksaw, I hiked out into the backcountry.

What I found was that both bulls still had their adornments. A little respect left them even in their demise.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

An Editor has Control of a Game and my Reputation

One of the most vivid scenes this baseball/softball season was during a softball game between Adna and Toutle Lake. Jessica-Jo Sandrini was as good as any high school softball player I have seen. Adna has a way of producing such products. On the other side of the coin, was Rachel Dahlman of Toutle Lake. I had read so much about her exploits and I was anxious to see her. I expected to see a big strong, burly gal, but what I found was an almost petite red-head with the mental toughness of a wildcat.

Anyhow, I digress. In a close ball game a couple of weeks ago, the Ducks of Toutle Lake were playing almost even with the Pirates. At 1-0, Adna had a couple of runners on base. They were poised to do more damage, but Dahlman had managed to wiggle off the hook over and over again.

My story on the game read like this “A passed ball allowed them to advance to second and third. Another passed ball brought Hoke into easily score, and a desperate throw in the general direction of Dahlman and was picked up by 3rd baseman Geri Wuollet who accurately returned it to Dahlman in plenty of time to tag out Sandrini at home plate. The tag was straightforwardly made in time, but when the two bodies separated from a violent collision, the ball was on the ground and Sandrini had scored the third and final run of the game“.

When it appeared in the paper this week the final sentence was left off. My editor was calling Sandrini out.

“A passed ball allowed them to advance to second and third. Another passed ball brought Hoke into easily score, and a desperate throw in the general direction of Dahlman and was picked up by 3rd baseman Geri Wuollet who accurately returned it to Dahlman in plenty of time to tag out Sandrini at home plate.

More likely, he didn’t like my use of “straightforwardly”. For the life of me when I was writing the article, I couldn’t come up with the word "routine". I am sure his job is tough. Two days of frantic computer work, deciding what to use, what to cut and how to present it. It is not the first time I have been impacted by his choices, and it probably won’t be the last.

Regardless, I am the one that will face Rachel Dahlman and the rest of her teammates next spring with a little less credibility.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Curiosity Brings Paddlers to the Chehalis River

Curiosity drives exploration and consider Dave Graf, a trip leader of the Lower Columbia Canoe Club an explorer. His group of eleven boaters from the Lower Columbia Canoe Club and the Southwest Washington Canoe Clubs spent a recent Sunday paddling a “dark”13.5 mile section of the Chehalis River. River guide books thoroughly document the river from Oakville to Gray’s Harbor, but the section around Centralia and Rochester have little to no information in print.

That is not to say that Graf and his cohorts would drop their canoes and kayaks in the water without any information. They had a good idea what the river would provide. Generally they expected Class 1b and c movement on the gentle river. Class 1 is the most mellow of moving waters and Class 1a would be considered a lake with no wind. Class 4 and 5 would be highly technical rapids and waterfalls.

The big question was what hazards or obstructions might be left from this last December’s flood. In fact the group’s intrigue for this trip followed after a recent float trip down the Nehalem River in Northwest Oregon where the paddlers saw a little more adventure than usual. They were astounded to see debris strewn forty feet above the current water level in trees. Their thoughts shifted towards the Chehalis.

One of the major logistical concerns for a trip in this area is that most of the river flows through private land. The group lit in the river at Borst Park in Centralia and then floated to a point near Independence Bridge where Graf knew a landowner and secured permission to access the river.

“While on the river we were treated to 3 Eagles and an array of ducks and other birds” reported Graf after an intimate look at one of the most natural rivers in Western Washington.

A look back up river to the other members of the Lower Columbia and Southwest Washington Canoe Clubs during a 13.5 mile float trip on the Chehalis River below Centralia. Photo by Dave Graf

The Chehalis has a menacing history and landowners tend to keep their distance. This was very observable from the water itself. “From our perspective on the river there were very few houses apparent, although we know they are close, so it made it seem like a very remote river and that is exceptional for most of our northwest rivers” said Graf.

In all, the river was just as they anticipated. The 13.5 mile float trip turned out to be quite a physical experience in order to make decent time on the slow running river. “Everyone stayed dry and had a great time. We have the tired arms and backs to show for it too“.

Beacon Rock State Park Offers Many Opportunities

With the middle elevations of Lewis County still covered with snow, it is back to plan “B”. The Columbia River Gorge is just 90 minutes away and there are so many opportunities that await.

On a recent, picture perfect day, my boys and I headed to Beacon Rock State Park 35 miles east of Vancouver. The best route from our area is I5 to I205 and then head east on Highway 14. We had two goals. One was to hike the rock, the volcanic dike that is the center piece of the 4,500 acre state park. Our second goal was to hike into a pair of waterfalls on the north side of Highway 14.

I planned nine hours to drive to the park, complete the two hikes and drive back home to Winlock. I was back in seven, and could have been home in five had it not been for our usual explorations this time around Cape Horn.

The trail up to the top of Beacon Rock is a fantastic piece of trail engineering. With 52 switchbacks and 22 bridges all bolted to the side of a vertical cliff. The ¾ mile-long trail was constructed between 1915-18 and cost an incredible $15,000 (1918 dollars of course) to build.

One web account that I had read stated that the top of Beacon Rock was “a good place for a picnic”. To that I say nix! There was room for maybe 20, standing, well balanced people. This is not a place to gather the quiet solace of nature! On any given summer day, there may be several hundred people on the trail at one time.

Upon finishing the hike to the top of the rock, we moved our vehicle across the road and found one of the last parking spaces at the Hamilton Mountain Trailhead. A ranger was actually directing traffic. A sure sign that we were in the backyard a couple of million people.

We hiked 1.4 miles up a pretty good slope to Rodney and Harvey Falls. The combination of drops was impressive, but my personal favorite was the upper Rodney Falls. For fans of natural carnival rides, you have got to stick your head into the “Pool of Winds”.

It may not be the “backcountry”, but there is no snow. That is about all many of us can hope for this spring!
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