Monday, January 22, 2007

Lewis Creek to Heybrook: Nude Snowshoeing

The view of Jumpoff Ridge from halfway up the Lewis Creek Road

First, a correction. In a previous post, I mistakenly named the hike, Lewis Creek when it was, in fact, an abandoned roadbed going up the Canyon and Boss Creek areas. The map that accompanies that hike incorrectly identifies that road as the Lewis Creek Road. The real Lewis Creek Road is 1.2 miles south just after the first (of three), identified Lewis Creek bridge crossings.

The Lewis Creek road is no longer accessible to vehicles as it's in terrible condition in the initial approaches and is also gated. The road does a couple of long-legged switchbacks up the westernmost flank of Gunn Peak, crosses Lewis Creek on a sturdy wooden bridge and then steeply works its' way up the northern side of Heybrook Ridge to connect with FS 6022. FS 6022 serves to connect the BPA maintenance spurs over Heybrook Ridge and in the past as the access to the Fire Lookout Tower atop Heybrook. The Lookout has since been deactivated but stands, maintained, as a hikers destination (usually by the more popular Heybrook Trail off of SR2). It is not well known that the Heybrook Lookout can also be approached from the north side as the Lewis Creek Road does not show on the USGS Topo Maps (nor the TIGER database). The Heybrook Trail gains 900ft to the Lookout in just over a mile; the Lewis Creek Route reaches the Lookout at just short of two miles with a gain of 1,100ft - a decidedly easier grade than the more popular trail. For the most part the Lewis Creek trail is on open slope that has been clearcut in the past. This is part of the area that is now considered for Wild Sky Wilderness Protection.

The Lewis Creek Road as the snow deepens enough for snowshoes

This past weekend was rather balmy . . . a respite from the lousy weather we have been getting. The morning I spent battling eight foot and higher snowdrifts to get up to Scenic Hot Springs and check out the conditions there. Closer to Stevens chains are required, even to get as far as the SnoPark area of the BN railyards next to the Surprise Creek Trailhead. The amount of snow up at Scenic was also not very friendly to getting in some nude time. But the weather stayed good so I stopped by Lewis on the way back in the afternoon. Surprisingly, as I hiked up the trail the temperatures got absolutely warmer (probably a high pressure temperature inversion); and with no wind, snow or rain it wasn't long before I shucked the clothes and was soon trekking in nothing more than a hat, boots, gaiters, snowshoes, poles and my pack. My thermometer said the upper thirties but it felt more like mid forties. Great nude snowshoeing weather . . . and I had the trail all to myself!

Nude snowshoeing on the Lewis Creek Road

Others have been on this trail recently . . . a few days old by the look of the tracks. None within a couple of days. Animal tracks abound: some small canine, probably a fox, deer and really surprising at the lower elevations . . . unmistakable bear tracks, and those were recent. I kept and eye on those tracks until they wandered off into the a cul downslope by the river.

The snow deepened fast and by a thousand feet mine were the only human-style tracks left. With no wind I was more than comfortable, even when it started to drop snow from the approaching afternoon clouds far above. I dallied and enjoyed the quiet, serenity of ice cascades and listen to the steady 'crunch-crunch' of warmed Cascade Concrete beneath. My snowshoes are new . . . replacing a bulky set of MSRs that weighed a ton. This are light and easy to manuever on steeper inclines. The gaiters are new as well. I don't often wear gaiters but I splurged for a top-off-the-line pair with an insulating liner. I'm sure the gaiters had a lot to do with keeping me warm . . . my feet were toasty and absolutely dry!

Displays of icicles everywhere

Near the top of Heybrook Ridge you pass under the BPA powerlines and intersect with FR 6022, a nominal maintenance road for the BPA. The snow is really deep here, three to four feet even on the road surfaces. Fortunately it is heavy snow and self-packing. To the right is Heybrook Lookout . . . maybe a quarter mile through the ridgetop canopy. To the left and east is the start of a trek down FS 6022 and eventually re-emergence on SR2 opposite the town of Baring. I snowshoe for another half mile east and then back as I'm losing elevation which means I have to climb on the flip-flop. Besides, I want to check out the Lookout Tower again.

Building a nude snowman

As popular as the Heybrook Trail has become, there are no tracks marring the pristine snowfield surrounding the Lookout Tower. I only regret that I was too lazy to remove my snowshoes and climb up . . . but daylight was failing and it was time to head back after a coffee break from my ever-present thermos. It was also beginning to cool down as the sun got lower. But not enough that I wasn't able to make it all the way back to my car nude and still feeling comfortable.

Heybrook Lookout Tower

Full-size map here (opens in new window)

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