Friday, September 26, 2008

Coldwater Peak Feels Wild Within Sight of the Highway

This wasn’t going to be my first time up Coldwater Peak, but a friend at work showed interest in climbing the peak and dogged me throughout the summer for a hike to the venerable site of a now absent fire lookout. When our mutual schedules finally came together on a date, our group swelled from two to seven people including my two boys.

My youngest son Jared hikes up the last switchbacks on Coldwater Peak.

The hike to Coldwater Peak could actually start in two locations. The easiest begins at Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of Highway 504, 52 miles east of Castle Rock. The second is the South Coldwater trail #230 at mile post 45 along Highway 504. I recommend the Boundary Trail #1 trail from Johnston Ridge over the South Coldwater route. The trail is in much better condition, especially as you enter the more remote areas of South Coldwater Ridge.

Two years ago, when I tried to reach Coldwater Peak from the western route, the trail had washed out in a glacial cirque. In addition, the trail can be difficult to find in a few places. One account I read this summer indicated that confusion led one hiker to go cross country by line of sight. Admittedly, it is tempting as pre-eruption logging roads carve up the landscape and appear to lead the unsuspecting hiker right to the base of the peak. By congressional legislation, the area is reserved for scientific use and by definition, any off-trail travel is against the law and subject to citation.

Mt. Margaret highlights the rugged country around St. Helens Lake.

This hike does require a monument pass (covered by annual and lifetime federal passes) which is purchased at Johnston Ridge. Rangers understand that hikers are often on the trail long before the tourist public, therefore it is considered an “honor system”. Simply explain that your hike started early and then go purchase or present your passes that support the facilities.

The easiest route leaves Johnston Ridge and winds around the Devil’s Elbow. A piece of trail that challenges phobias hikers might have with heights. After turning the corner onto a deposit of hummocks left by the collapse and landslide of Mt. St. Helens in 1980, the hiker climbs to a gentle plateau where the first significant views of Spirit Lake begin.

Kyle takes a break above St. Helens Lake and Mt. Rainier can be seen in the background.

It is from here to the top of a ridge overlooking St. Helens Lake that I consider the most difficult stretch of the hike. There is little to no shade and constant exposure to the sun as you climb near 1,000 vertical feet over a mile. Preparing for sun exposure in the rain forest climate is an important preparation component for any hiker. Once reaching the top of this crest, the trail finds a delicate route along the slender ridgeline and at one point, actually crosses through a natural void in the geology.

The trail finds a natural route through the volcanic dike. The view through the “Arch” includes a look at Mt. Adams, 35 miles to the east.

As our group spread out, some nearly took a wrong turn at the junction of the South Coldwater #230 trail. They couldn’t initially find the needed trail and saw the word “Coldwater” on the sign. They assumed that was the way to go. Due to a large area of compacted soils and wildlife trails that quickly disappear, it is difficult to find Boundary Trail. At the junction, continue straight, veer to the right slightly and the typical worn tread will come into view about 20 yards ahead.

From this point, it is only about another mile to the summit of Coldwater Peak; Half of that distance is gentle topography. At the spur junction. A smaller, less visible trail departs left and switchbacks up the side of the peak. It delivers you to a USGS communications station at an elevation of 5,727 feet and the former site of one of Southwest Washington‘s 33 fire lookouts.

Huckleberry Bushes present a rusty red that contrast the blues of St. Helens Lake. The silver logs in the lake were deposited by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

In all, the out and back hike is slightly more than 13 miles and call me a fool when I asked my group what was the most difficult portion, to a person they all chose the last half mile.

On this day, the weather was perfect. 65 to 75 with a few fluttering clouds here and there. It was the sound in the air that made the trip predictably enjoyable. It was mid-September and the beginning of the elk rut combined with a availability of huckleberries to make the return hike just as enjoyable as the accent. Several bull elk produced annual calls that made you feel like you were in an extra wild place despite being in almost constant view of a state highway.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Too Much Football, Not Enough Me

It was a tough week to choose what local high school football game to attend as a sportswriter for the “Town Crier”. Generally fairness to the six athletic programs that I cover is the trump card. This week, it was Napavine. The short drive to Tiger rival Adna was an excellent opportunity to cover the Tigers in an important match-up.

A classic Friday night scene from a classic venue on the "Hill" at Adna west of Chehalis, Washington.

It got ugly in the 3rd and temptation called. There was Winlock with their new found football prowess and a chance to see Toledo prove themselves against powerhouse Montesano. So much local football and not enough of me.

I departed for Winlock and arrived to find a 33-0 and bad news about Mike Ayon. Six miles away, there was a close game in progress the last I had heard. Toledo had Montes’ hands full. So back into the car I jumped and went a few miles east of Interstate 5.

What I found in Toledo was a Montesano team that was a machine and wore the Indians out in a business-like fashion. They scored three additional touchdowns and dominated while I was there. It was a abysmal night for the four Lewis County football teams in our circulation area, but the two Cowlitz County teams won big games.

The bottom line is that a little knowledge is a precarious thing. I now know the kids and coaches from six schools. I am proud to watch their accomplishments and get excited at their progress, improvement and hopes in the rest of the season.

The Winlock coaches and team meet on the sidelines during their September 12th game against Ocosta.

If you haven’t been out to catch one of our fantastic fall Friday night Football games, now is the time. From the amazing sunset in Onalaska in week one to the near full moon in Winlock in week two to the Americana of Adna’s “Hill” in week three, my tour of our local fall high school sports scene is of intrinsic value that should be shared! Come and enjoy it with me!

Lakes Trail Along Coldwater Lake Provides Gentle Topography

There are times, and hopefully many when you have to adjust your hikes to your partner. It is nearly impossible to find a hiking partner with your same physical condition and trail values. Hikes generally fit into three categories for me. There are the short, boring ones, the moderate with modest interest and those that climb to the highest levels with the greatest views. Unfortunately, few of my potential hiking partners have my physical condition and or share my interest of alpine settings.

Geology and Minnie Peak combine for a great landscape diversity along the shores of Coldwater lake.

My dear wife shares my values , but not my physical condition or my longing to reach the highest elevations. To share any trail time with her, I must find trails in either category 1 or 2. There is also the factor of making one feel good about their accomplishments, therefore I chose the higher level.

In my data bas of trails, I found one that fit our mutual needs. The first 5 miles of the “Lakes Trail” is flat, and relatively gentle. It has spectacular scenery and is only about an hour away from the area.

Alders along South Coldwater Ridge provide a nice reflection in the quiet lake water.

The Lakes Trail is actually Trail #211 which ventures into the Mt. Margaret Backcountry of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. It refers to the eastern high lakes of Snow, Shovel and Obscurity, but for our purposes, it may as well mean Coldwater Lake itself.

Spud Mountain rises on the west side of the Toutle River Valley with Coldwater Lake in the foreground.

The trail leaves from near the Coldwater Lake boat dock and follows the shore to the east side of the lake where it continues to follow Coldwater Creek into the high country. As you leave what few visitors there are on the developed side of the lake, plan on experiencing the quiet side of wild this fall. While is has been a poor year for huckleberries, the Evergreen genre supplied many moments of natural refreshment with some berries larger than any in my recent memory. Second, the next few weeks will supply natural drama as the area elk populations communicate with bugles that seem so sink into the soul.

Evergreen Huckleberries were both plenty and large along the trail.

Laurie partaking of tasty natural bounty.

One note of caution for any that hike this trail in the next few weeks, is that hunters sometimes use the area for their sport as well. Dressing accordingly is advised. On our recent hike, we saw one hiker and two boats on the lake where it was quiet enough to hold a conversation from shore to boat in a normal tone of voice.

What people need to understand is the concept of perspective. Most have observed Coldwater Lake from the viewpoints, boat docks or the decks of the former Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center but as you head east and view the lake looking west, entire new scenes of Washington scenery present themselves. Spud Mountain looms west of the alder groves, and South Coldwater Ridge seems to grow as the lake shrinks. The water in the fall is clear which is often no the case in the spring or summer.

Laurie crosses one of the most rugged portions of the trail at the base of a massive natural landslide.

At the end of the lake, we came to the junction of the South Coldwater Trail (#230) and followed it 30 yards to a bridge over Coldwater Creek where we appropriately ate lunch.

While this portion of the Lakes Trail is long, there are few opportunities to beat the scenery with a tail that gains little elevation.

Find Peace at the North Jetty in Ocean Shores

When I moved to Washington from Oregon in 2004, there were a number of culture shocks. The lack of access to rivers and shorelines was just the beginning, but nowhere is the culture more intrusive than when trying to find a quiet place on an ocean beach.

I recently took my entire family on a exploration to the Ocean Shores area along the northwest entrance to Gray’s Harbor. I had not been to Ocean Shores since the late 70s when my brother owned a seafood store downstairs from his attic apartment. The growth over the past 20 years has been remarkable if not alarming.

Our first stop was at Ocean City State Park to access the beach. I was relieved to see the “no-motorized vehicles beyond this point” signs on the trail to the surf, but forgot about the freeway that is the beach in Washington. Sure enough, once we hiked the 200 meters to the sand, we could see the constant cross traffic that included cars, trucks, motorcycles, ATVs and even large groups of horses. We walked to the surf’s edge as my youngest dodged the small waves only to find ourselves repositioning for traffic or watching for our own safety.

The beach at Ocean City State Park was an absolute zoo of motorized and non-motorized activity.

After about 20 minutes at this location, it was time to move on. We drove to the southern edge of the peninsula where the north jetty juts out into open waters to protect the entrance to Gray’s Harbor. Here, we found a small section of beach where beach traffic did not exist as if it was restricted. There were plenty of people on the beach, but as far as the eye could see, there was no road traffic creating a pleasant beach experience. Families were flying kites, throwing Frisbees and building sand castles.

A look west on the north jetty at Ocean Shores.

As if were an added bonus, the jetty itself supplied many private locations to sit, contemplate, cuddle and enjoy the power of the scene at hand. The large rocks also offered a haven from the winds.

The view of the harbor entrance shows a tug and freight departing for open waters.

I also enjoyed hiking,/climbing out towards the end of the jetty. Not something that I would recommend in rough weather, but for me, it provided a few unique photo angles and a little badly needed exercise.

Looking north from the jetty at Ocean Shores.

To reach the north jetty, take Highway 101 to Hoquiam and follow the signs to Ocean Shores. You will take SR 109 and then turn south on SR 115. While it is easy enough to say, drive south, it is a thin peninsula that runs north to south and getting lost is nearly impossible, your most effective route in Ocean Shores is on Ocean Shores Boulevard, but there are some twists and turns in the process. The highway will turn right onto Damon Road and go about ¼ mile before you need to take a left onto Point Brown Ave. Then a quick right onto Ocean Shores Boulevard. Drive to the end of the road where you will find a parking lot and what appears to be a big pile of rocks.

On our visit, the weather couldn't have been more gentle or mild. If boulders could only talk!
Just up the road, on SR 109, the City of Copalis restricts vehicles on its beaches. It might also be a good place to pull up a quiet stretch of beach, but for me, that is a trip for another day.
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