Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vanson Lake Couldn't Elude us Forever

With temperatures near 90 degrees, hiking 17 miles in the Cascade foothills might seem like a less than reflective choice, but when thought through, it was a pretty good idea. It was the other elements that made our hike to Vanson Lake a fairly uncomfortable experience.

The spur trail to the top of Vanson Ridge featured a nice wildfire garden.

Vanson Lake is a small piece of water in the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It is not however, located within the blast zone and three trails converge nearby to make it a central feature in a little known roadless area between the Green River to the south and the Cowlitz to the north.

Mt. Adams could be seen from the top of Vanson Peak. The area in front of Mt. Adams shows signs of the Mt. St. Helens blast zone.

There are several ways to reach Vanson Lake and the trails that form an area of almost complete serenity just south of Taidnaipam Park on the upper end of Riffe Lake. This is an area where you go for peace and solitude. While there is plenty of scenery, especially in the form of cascading creeks and waterfalls, don’t expect to see alpine scenery with picturesque scenes without significant effort.

Vanson Lake is located in a remote location at about 3,800 feet elevation.

That may change if you access the area from the Green River area where the Green River and Goat Mountain Trail junctions with the Goat Creek Trail. The routes out of the Green River Valley are on sout facing slopes in the Mt. St. Helens blast zone and would have been a miserable experience on this day. As it was, my 10 year old son and I hiked in the deep, cool, shaded woods alongside creeks that forced us to cross them on occasion; Sometimes in refreshing, bare feet.

My 10 year old son Jared crosses one of the many creeks along the trail to Vanson Lake.

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 is the main road while the middle fork is gated. Take the farthest turn to the left. This is now USFS road #2750. The Forest Service has placed a sign to clearly mark the way to the trailhead this summer. Drive for 4.5 miles to the trailhead.

Cascading streams are a common sight along the Goat Creek Trail.

For the first 4 miles, the trail follows tributaries of Goat Creek. This late in the summer, water levels are light as creeks tumble over impressive falls. At just under 4,000 feet, we ran into surprisingly large patches of snow, and more impacting, the swarms of bugs that can usually be associated with the woods shortly after snow melt. From some beautiful meadows, we started climbing again to the top of Vanson Ridge where an important junction of trails occurs.

By taking the USFS Road #25 south out of Randle (Hwy 131) and then taking USFS Road #26, to Ryan Lake and the Green River Horse Camp, several trails lead from USFS Road #2612 up Goat Mountain to Tumwater Mountain, Deadmans Lake and of course Vanson lake.

The trip from either location is a long day hike. I would suggest staying at least one night out to make the hike worthwhile.

As for us, the bugs really took away from our experience. Above 3,500 feet, stopping to enjoy scenery, crossing streams or taking a dip into Vanson Lake made for a miserable existence. Of course, that is the nature of dry, hot weather and hiking. While we hoofed what amounted to 17 miles on the hottest day of the year, we barely even noticed the heat in the deeply wooded canyon but we were very careful to drink an incredible amount of water to stay hydrated. A few early season huckleberries, blueberries and salmonberries supplemented what little lunch we ate at the lake.

Haze and smoke prevented a clear view of Mt. Rainier from the top of Vanson Ridge.

As a final insult, we hiked to the point of Vanson Peak at about 4,900 feet elevation. From there, views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier, Riffe Lake and the northern end of the Mount St. Helens blast zone greeted us. The haze and smoke made the entire region almost unrecognizable. Despite almost miserable conditions, you couldn’t help but feel good about the experience as a whole. The fact that we live in a region with such vast playgrounds readily available should make us all beam with pride!

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