Friday, August 19, 2005

Scenic Creek and Huckleberry Picking (au' natural)

My hike didn't start as a 'huckleberry hunt" . . . just a couple of free hours and a need to get out of my clothes and enjoy the great weather. And one of my favorite short hikes is to the water falls and cascades of Scenic Creek as it approaches the Tye River Valley and Highway 2 east of Stevens Pass. This turned out to be two hikes in one . . . satifying my appreciation of the raw majesty of the Lower Falls and then, completely out of character to me, driving the couple of miles up Highway 2 without bothering to pull at least a pair of shorts on, to hike up to the Upper Falls area.

I'd always wanted to hike further up the course of Scenic Creek to see if it were possible to approach the sources of the creek up in the mountains. Although I didn't accomplish that goal this trip, I did discover numerous mountain huckleberry shrubs bearing ripe fruit as I climbed higher.

The Lower Scenic Creek Falls

The lower falls are easier to access . . . in fact, ridiculously easy to approach, which surprises me as I’ve only seen one reference ever to these falls and those directions would have led you astray. The easiest approach is just back from the Surprise Creek Trailhead. There is a small bridge that crosses the combined Scenic and Surprise Creeks, then further back an small gravel access road that serves as BPA access. Fifty feet or so further back on the road, but before you reach the small wooden sign advising the need for Forest Services Passes, you can see a meadow-like area where Scenic Creek passes by 20 yards or so to the east. This is your access point.

The Lower Scenic Falls with a great, shallow soaking pool at the base

The falls are simply reached by following the creek for a quarter of a mile, skirting the slopes and avoiding the low spots where Devil’s Club proliferates. There is a small trail but it is hard to make out because of disuse and overgrowth.

The Upper Scenic Creek Falls

To approach the upper falls area you can either attempt the perilous southern slopes around the lower falls and thence across the very steep BPA clear-cut area, or you can approach them easier from the east via FS Road 850 . . . the traditional access to Scenic Hot Springs.

Forest Service Road 850 is gated 300 ft from the entrance on Highway 2, so park carefully on the side (do not block the gate and display your Forest Service Pass). There may be other vehicles parked here . . . those are the people sneaking up to Scenic Hot Springs, which, although officially closed, still attract a hard-core segment of soakers. You share the hike up the forest service road as hot spring travelers until the BPA clear cut area. There, they head to the left and up along the road while you head right along the access road on more level ground. Just before you come to the next BPA tower you will see a rather large granite boulder on the side of the road. You can’t miss it . . . it’s twenty feet long and ten high. Looking into the tree-line just across you will see the evidence of a trail leading into the forest. This is the easy access to the upper springs area which avoids the steep scramble over boulders, skree, fallen trees and impassable Devil’s Club.

The water is cold but oh so refreshing pn a hot summer day!

This is a great area to hang out naked. Few people ever come up this way because of the difficulty (unless you know the secret trail). In truth, I often hike nude straight from the gate on FS 850. You may meet a few hot spring travelers on occasion but they are se’la’vie on the matter. You may want to clothe up for the short trek into the trail because of brambles and dry tree branches. Like I say, this trail is not well known and therefore un-maintained. Once you reach the meadows area of the creek, itself, you are in open forest with plenty of room to move about. There are great areas for camping and even remnants of old campfire rings above the view of the ramparts of the upper falls.

One of the many, many cascades of water in the upper courses of Scenic Creek

This area is superlative in itself and I could spend an entire day just lolling about the easy, moss-covered meadows or exploring the numerous falls, themselves. However, this hike is about searching for that elusive “Huckleberry”. Pickings are rather slim at this elevation . . . the Mountain Huckleberry likes it a few hundred feet higher so off I went, headed up alongside the creek’s steep cut into the granite of the mountain. The hiking is easy with plenty of opportunities for picture-taking (if you like mountain streams, that is). The forest is open and the major impediment, the numerous fallen trees, easy to climb over. Mountain Blueberry abounds . . . small, and sweet dusty-blue berries. About a hundred or so feet uphill you pick up an old trail worn into the overburden that generally follows the east-side of Scenic Creek up.

Now is the time to apply the bug-repellant, if you haven’t already done so. With all the fallen wood rotting into the humus, and the warm, moist days, those midges and biting gnats are out in force. No deer or black flies, fortunately, but the gnats are a real irritant. Use bug-spray!

Blueberries are sparse down below but the higher you get the more the bushes seem to contain. Others have been in the lower area to harvest them, it seems, but few wander this far up and the trail is very often very hard to make out. Then I spot my first Huckleberry!

The shiny, black fruit of the mountain huckleberry

Blueberries and Huckleberries may seem similar but are from different taxnoma. Blueberries are smallish, dusty-blue and tend to cluster on the bush; whereas Huckleberries grow a single berry from the axial of the stem. There are many varieties; we are in search of the Mountain Huckleberry, which is indigenous to these slopes at the higher elevations. Huckleberry doesn’t like the very moist areas, which is fortunate because I don’t like Devil’s Club. They grow higher and away from streams, seeking out areas where they can catch shady sun.

Mountain Huckleberries are slightly larger than wild blueberries, with a shiny black skin. Unlike blueberries with their skin-staining purple flesh, Huckleberries have a clear to translucent flesh, course seeds and a somewhat musky taste. Pick the individual berries between finger and thumb with a rolling motion out at the base. A ripe berry comes away easily and without squashing.

Bears like Huckleberries as well and it’s best to be awarethat these forested slopes and streams are bear country. Make sure that you make plenty of noise so as to alert and discourage any nearby foraging bears. Bears don’t like contact with humans any more than we want to meet a bear in a surprise encounter.

The trail just seems to disappear a couple of miles up, making me unsure of the approach to Lake Hamada, the source for Scenic Creek. I’ve got my plastic bag full of berries and a couple of hours of enjoyable solitude . . . au’ natural. A good afternoon.

Credit to unknown photographer . . . I've met bears but never this close

This is not what you want to mess with . . . a mother and her cub. It is best to steer a wide path around and make sure she knows where you are.

Related Posts with Thumbnails