Tuesday, July 29, 2008

South Fork Tieton River

This is how finding and accessing wilderness trails should be. Kudos to the Wenatchee National Forest! There are great roads leading in and it was no problem finding. There was a lot of recent maintenance on the trail and I suspect a lot of that belongs to the Backcountry Horsemen, but it looks like other crews as well. Clearly, this trail is maintained for the horsemen. I saw a total of 8 while seeing only two hikers. The trail itself is in good shape except for the way the horses turn the tread to a fine powder. It’s like walking on dry beach sand for the better part of 9 miles. In other words, I used a few muscles that have not been properly exercised this summer.

I caught a photo of this fast moving and rare mountain wildlife.

Keep in mind, the Conrad Meadows are an active grazing allotment and that means the presence of some free range cattle. Look to avoid the bulls.

One group of cows I met was right on the trail. They gladly yielded, but a large bull that was resting just adjacent to the path was not so accommodating. He did stand to greet me, but then proceeded to stare my way in a menacing fashion. I chose to be the one to yield, leaving the trail and finding my way through the woods for 50 yards or so until I was out of the attention range of the large animal.

Mt. Curtis Gilbert dominates the landscape above Conrad Meadows.

To reach the Conrad Meadows, take Highway 12 to east of Rimrock Lake and turn onto Tieton Lake Road. Go for about 6 miles and turn south on USFS Road #1000. You will drive for 7 miles on single lane pavement and then the road turns to a wider, but well conditioned gravel road. Signs point the way to Conrad Meadows with little or no required guesswork.

The upper watershed of the South Fork Tieton River drains a portion of the Goat Rocks Wilderness.

The trail starts in the meadows about 4,500 feet above sea level and spends the first 3 miles in an almost flat layout. The early views are stunning. Open meadows with patches of pine and fir provide a foreground for the rugged peaks of the Goat Rocks in the background. The scenes remind me of many photos and post cards that are placed into my memory of Colorado. Unfortunately, the amount of bug-killed timber that dots the lower elevations of this hike reminds me of places all over the west, which caused my mind to consider the debate about how to best manage such resources.
Lodgepole Pines have been killed by the Mountain pine beetle while other trees in the area were hit by the Spruce bud worm.

There is a major bridge were Conrad Creek joins the South Fork of the Tieton River.

After a couple of river crossings, the trail splits and begins a loop around a large cirque that forms the drainage of the South Fork Tieton River. I chose to turn left and go counter clockwise. Immediately, the trail started climbing, switch backing between two smaller creeks. One of them had a significant waterfall that caught my interest, but access for a photo looked pretty tough. About 30 or 40 minutes later of moderate uphill hiking, I found myself on the shores of Surprise Lake. I rapidly took off my boots and waded out into the crisp waters to watch fish jump and take in the spectacle under Conrad Mountain.

A salamander swam right under me during my dip into Surprise lake.

After the lake, there was about 30 minutes worth of brilliant, high mountain meadow scenery as you follow the natural give of the geology. The trail gradually dips into the forest with occasional stream drainages of interest, but largely, only modest flower gardens kept my attention from the doldrums of the slow decent.

A small creek cut a small gorge in the walls of the ccanyon.

Even though the weather was perfect for them, bugs were a minimal problem.
The scenery is great and I had a perfect day of weather. Overall I looked at this trail like an amusement ride where I had to wait in line way too long...there was a lot of hiking for a short period of class A scenery. I would try Snowgrass or Berrypatch before driving the extra hour to Conrad Meadows.

Beautiful Surprise Lake was a wonderful stop.

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