Sunday, July 20, 2008

Evergreen Mountain

The lookout is located at the top of that ridge

The SLUGS did an all-day nude hike onto Evergreen Mountain on July 16th, a round trip of 18 miles starting at 9:30 am until late in the afternoon near 7 pm. The hike began at the forest service road closure near the two mile mark and came just short of the lookout tower high atop a rocky protuberance on the mountain . . . an elevation gain of 3,000 feet. Along the way we saw a number of waterfalls, enjoyed wildflowers in colorful bloom and had superlative views of the Cascades from the western-facing flanks of Evergreen Mountain. Though we ran out of energy (and time) and gave up on the extra two hours to reach the lookout, we go our workout . . . the hike touted as a Bare Buns Fun Run conditioning hike and a 'tan enhancer'. We definitely got a lot of conditioning and perhaps a little more sunshine than we needed.

Evergreen Lookout . . . once a popular destination for both day hikers and overnighters staying in the preserved fire lookout tower atop Evergreen Mountain. However, since the road was destroyed by severe storms several years ago, few people attempt the arduous trek up the length of the forest service road to the trailhead. There is an old, reverted trail in (4 1/2 miles, which I'm helping to blaze), but few yet know of it. Evergreen, for the time being, is essentially inaccessible to the general hiking public. Even the rangers do not know of the extent or conditions at the top. That makes Evergreen a good nude hiking location! Famous last words but more on that later.

The forest service road is blocked by concrete jersey barriers 2 miles in; 7 1/2 miles one way, plus an additional 1.5 miles to the lookout for 9 miles or 18 miles roundtrip; 3,000 foot elevation gain . . . most of it the final 2-3 miles.

The road winds and switchbacks around three flanks of the mountain to eventually reach the trailhead to the lookout. Along the way, the road is washed out completely at several locations, stopping even the few brave mountain bikes that have attempted the road. The road (other than the washouts) is in very good shape and easy to hike on. It starts out relatively level at first but steepens as it climbs its' long tortuous route up. As your legs complain, vistas open up over all the surrounding forest and mountains. You are exposed to full sunlight for 90% of the route so sunblock is a must, as is plenty of water. There are a number of stream crossings in the lower sections, but not for drinking . . . unless you happen to be carrying a water filter, as Mike was.

Numerous deer tracks . . . a few bear prints but not a problem. Wide open on the road we had ample sight distance to avoid problems. An ambitious nude hike for us Sluggies, right?

Granite walls of moss and spring waters pepper the roadside

Our hike began at 9:30. I'd already been up at the agreed-upon meetup spot for an hour . . . have camped on a nearby peak the night before. The nearby Evergreen Creek crossing provided me my morning splashoff and wakeup . . . along with a short nude hike by myself. Back in the shade of the parking area before the barriers I sipped freshly made coffee with just a long teeshirt covering me to ward off the morning shill. The rest of our hiking party showed up right on time . . . with only one misstep in following directions. Seems FS 6550 was not signed at the pass. They went left instead of right. Alas ...

Richard M checking out one of the waterfalls on the way up

Constant great views all the way up (shown is Monte Cristo,
Columbia and Kyes Peaks to the northwest)

Vandals have torn down the trailhead sign for firewood

Hiking the closed-off gravel road left us in sunshine for most of the grueling hike up, but who were we to complain. We got the road to ourselves, lots of sun exposure (perhaps a little too much), great views the higher we climbed, and a number of waterfalls to explore along the way. The waterfalls (and the creeks from which they cascade down) are the reasons for the major washout that have closed this road.

We finally arrive at the end of the forest service road, and the start of the trail to Evergreen Lookout. If I hadn't been up here on past visits we wouldn't have known where the actual trail started. Much of the entrance is overgrown and not readily apparent . . . but worse still is that the trailhead sign is gone. We found its' remains a hundred feet away . . . broken up and charred for some idiot's idea of a campfire. Shame.

We dally for awhile, tired and exhausted. The lookout is still a couple of miles off (and UP) and we've already taken a big chunk out of today's available daylight. High above us on a far clearcut ridge you can make out the lookout anchored firmly to a large outcrop of granite. On and up? . . . Do we shrug the sore muscles off and see if we can make the lookout? Mike and Richard both look as tired as I am but they don't state the obvious . . . the lookout is still too far off for us to make the return trip before nightfall. But . . . let's see just how far we can traverse. I take the lead and head on up the tightly-closed in trailhead, pushing aside lush foliage. Beyond the lower entrance the trail tread is obvious and in good shape. However, it is far steeper than the road coming up. The going is slow . . . short traverses and lots of switchbacks to make elevation gain.

The Vollmer lily growing in abundance
above the 4,000 ft level of the mountain

This section of the hike is on former clearcut that never regained the forested glory of the past. The ridge remains fully open to the sun, favoring wildflowers on the steep rocky slopes. Up here there is no shade and I'm now glad that Mike brought along his water filter and supplemented our supplies halfway into the hike. We definitely needed the extra fluid to beat back dehydration and heat exhaustion.

The open ridge is our first major rest stop. We need food and our legs need rest. And what a great spot to take in the expansive views back down on the Beckler River Valley.

Looking back down to the beginning of the 'official trail'
(after hiking 9 miles to get there)

Not long after the photo above was taken we made the decision the turn around. The lookout was still a hard hour-long scramble up the ridge and over a rocky saddle onto the next ridge. My legs were protesting and cramping. We turned around . . . The lookout would require a much earlier start the next time.

Slippery footing but well worth it to cool off

Downhill is not easier than going uphill . . . counterintuitive to many because you would think gravity would do most of the work and help. The problem here is that you have to keep checking yourself on the average 20-35 degd slope. Going downhill is tough on the knees and quads. We were all suffering leg cramps by the time we finally arrived back down at the first of the wonderfully-refreshing waterfalls. Mike set about filtering another gallon of sweet, mountain-fresh water while Richard and myself got those hot shoes off and headed straight into the invigorating spray of the waterfalls.

Enjoying the waterfall on the way back down

We spent sometime in the cooler environs of the waterfalls cooling off and soothing sore feet. We were totally tired now . . . several miles downhill to go. I know in my mind that all I wanted now was to arrive back at my car and be able to sit down for an extended period. I suspected Richard and Mike felt the same way though neither voiced it except the occasional stop to massage a cramped calf muscle.

Past the last waterfall and road collapse we are on the final one mile stretch when all of a sudden and 4x4 suddenly comes careening up the roadbed loaded with mountain bikes in the back. We barely have time to step off the road before they are upon us from a blind curve ahead. And then they are gone . . . waving, blaring the horn, and spraying gravel behind spinning mud tires. I'm reminded of one hike some years ago when a similarly abandoned road suddenly produced a vehicle seemingly out of nowhere . . . the yell was given to bail (over the side) and I got my nom d' plume 'BangedUpShins'. Only there is no time to bail now . . . they barely missed us on the narrow road. Surprise ahead for them . . . there was no road half a mile further up . . . and trailbikes? They'd have to carry them across the deep road cut. Didn't sound like too much fun to me.

Further perplexing . . . how did they get around the concrete jersey barriers. The answer had to wait for the final switchback across the bridge. Ahead we spotted our cars parked safely beyond those barriers . . . barriers still in place. It took a moment to figure it out. These yahoos had simply went off-road up into a fragile bog area with barely enough room for the mud-tires to clear . . . and tear up a lot of vegetation. Ah well. I hope they figure out how to turn their rig around up there.

We could relax now.

Mike and Richard begged off the Scenic trip but I had promised to meet any second halfers up there for the hot springs soak. We parted company at Hwy 2, they turning west and home, and me for Scenic. I parked at the gate and waited, reclining my seat for a little snooze. Hours later I awoke, cold. Eleven pm and pitch-black . . . and on the cool side with nothing on and the windows down. No one seemed to have shown up so I started the engine, got some heat going and headed home. My body had gotten a lot of exercise this day . . . and even more sun. I was looking forward to a good nights sleep.

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