Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Four Nude Hikes, One Gorgeous Day!

That's right. Not content to do one, I hiked nude in four different areas in one day:
  • Portage route above the Index-Galena road breach,
  • Sunset Mine and a little distance beyond,
  • Raptor Point on the Skykomish,
  • Proctor Creek clearcut

Get out there and enjoy nature . . . au' natural!

Having no pressing commitments and a light overcast looking promising for an early burn off, I pulled in to Cloud City Coffee for a much wanted cup of coffee on the way back to the house for a change of clothes. Big mistake as I got caught up in a spirited conversation on the transit situation in the Puget Sound area. It was almost an hour and two large cups of coffee before I could excuse myself and get out of there (with a little white lie.) By then, the sun was already coming out from behind the overcast and I knew I was missing opportunities to enjoy it. I don't often get the chance to start a hike early in the morning.

Back home, I changed quickly, made myself a thermos of coffee, and dashed back to the car before someone else waylaid me. Gas tank full . . . everything else needed already in place, off I headed east towards the mountains.

After a hike I often drive back nude . . . or nearly so, wearing only a long teeshirt that covers me from prying eyes yet almost gives the sensation of being nude. It certainly feels a whole lot more comfortable. Since I didn't have to make anymore stops I stripped off the shorts to get a head start on my nude time. Target . . . once again to the trails of the Index-Galena Road. I really wanted to see if the river overflowing the road had gone down far enough for me to ford it and reach the great sunning areas beyond . . . or if the portage trails were still in existence after the rough winter we'd had.

10am - 3pm: North Fork of the Skykomish beyond the road breach

The Index-Galena/FS 65 Beckler River Loop
(the green dots are places of personal interest)

The Index-Galena Road does a 30 mile loop around the Wild Sky Wilderness from Index on US Highway 2 to just past Skykomish. It is actually two roads, one the paved Index-Galena (a county-owned road) which ends at Garrand Hot Springs near the top of the map; and FS 65 (the Beckler River Road, paved for the first seven miles) which is the eastern side of the loop. The two meet near the bottom of Jacks Pass. All along this loop there are some fabulous hiking, camping and skinny-dipping locations . . . most previously-accessible for the major part of the year yet remote enough to enjoy nude recreation without ever seeing another person.

One such location is at the 6.4 mile mark (from the Index turnoff on Hwy 2) where the road is barricaded. You can head uphill along the Trout Creek drainage or you can figure a way past the river's rerouted wrath to seek out great sunning and skinny-dipping locations on the far side of the breach. Seeing a pickup truck parked at the base of the Sunset Mine Road I opted to do a little exploring to see whatever damage the elements and the river had done over this past winter season. I parked on the shoulder of the road near the 'closure' sign. I was quite alone . . . the teeshirt came off right away and then I took my time putting on hiking shoes and checking the contents of my fanny-pack. Then it was off to see what Mother Nature had wrought over the winter and spring. Had anymore of the road washed away, and was even the tenuous portage trail I'd helped blaze still in existence?

The 2006 winter storms sent the river
tearing up the road, closing it to traffic

In November of 2006 a series of heavy rain storms flooded the North Fork of the Skykomish River. At a bend in the river near a great campsite and beach, the river broke through in a wild torrent of flood water 15-20ft deep (yes, I measured the height of riff-raff way up in the remaining, still-standing trees along that destructive path). The flood completely tore up the pavement for a little over a mile before that new channel of the river sought out and jumped back into it's normal watercourse. The resulting destruction made the road impassable to vehicles (and until portage trails were blazed, to us humans on foot).

From left to right: 1) the Closure Signs at the northern end of the Index-Galena Road near Garrand Hot Springs, 2) roadbed collapse near Troublesome Creek, 3) one of the failed culverts on FS63

The same storm also washed out parts of the upper road between Galena and Jacks Pass, causing the county to close and gate the road to all vehicles but property owners. Landslides and culvert-failures caused major damage to FS 63 leading to the popular Quartz, Cady and North Fork Trails. As a result, some of the best hiking places are now inaccessible without many miles of additional hiking to reach the trailheads. It was estimated in a recent Seattle Times editorial that it would cost at least $10 million and six years to mitigate the effects of that storm damage (and that's not including the major damage to the culverts along FS 63, a responsibility of the Forest Service).

Nearer to today's hike there are the two major breaches of the road surface. The worst one is near the far end of the 1.7 mile torn-up section where the full force of the river churns a roiling deep cut that is unfordable. A bypass portage was blazed soon after the storm and, though few know of it, it is a pleasant forest hike around the worst of the damage to the far side and the continuation of the Index-Galena Road.

No traffic and high, fast-flowing cold water means few
intrepid visitors and great nude hiking for me

Closer to the southern end where the river finally decides to leave the roadbed and rejoin the original watercourse, it is possible to ford the cold current during times of low flow (late summer). Any other time and the river runs down the torn up road surface too fast, too deep, and exceedingly cold. However, there is a bypass portage that fishermen have worn and blazed over the toe of the mountain above this section. If you don't know where to look you'd never spot this entrance. Though most visitors are missing a view of what lays ahead, that lack of easy access works in my favor.

The bypass portage entrance

The roadbed/river below the first portage

The hike along the portage is pleasant. Although you are under thick canopy and have to initially climb high on the steep slope, you are rewarded with frequent vistas of the river below . . . or more precisely, what used to be the road surface. The tread is narrow and the footing tricky . . . the trail only established over the last year by those of us determined to get to the other side. Nothing official about it. While the river is running high this is the only way around.

Where the river initially broke through onto the road.
Believe it or not, this is the roadbed!

The first portage comes back down onto a half mile section of pavement that remained intact after the flooding. Stepping out onto the wide-open asphalt nude is often a little unnerving because you feel so exposed . . . until you realize that there will be no cars suddenly appearing from ahead or behind and you relax to just enjoy being in full sunlight.

Straight ahead is the worst breach and this one is not easily fordable under even the lowest of river flows. The river has cut deep here and narrows to a dangerous churning. One more portage back up onto the forest canopy and you are soon on the far side of the damage . . . back to unscathed pavement for the next five miles.

From the last breach, north, the road is deserted

Though seemingly deserted, this section of the Index-Galena Road is reachable by car via a 50+ mile detour up Highway 2 to the Beckler River Turnoff past Skykomish and over Jacks Pass at the top of the loop. There are a number of property inholdings along the river and though the road is gated below the pass, property owners can visit their summer cabins (or mineral claims) via this route. Most of this private property is several miles further to the north so the road is essentially deserted. I've hiked the entire length nude and never seen a vehicle or activity.

One of many secluded beaches beyond the road cuts

The reason for private property . . . river frontage, of course? But not all of it. Most of the private land is much further to the north around Galena and Silver Creek. Some of the choicest frontage is just past where the river took on the road at a bend in the river. River bends deposit sand and produce some nice sunning beaches and campsites like the one above . . . a mere hundred feet north of the breakthrough.

This is my favorite beach by far. For one, it has just stunning views out over the wide floodplain of the North Fork of the Skykomish River, including the ridges and crests of the mountains to the west. Sunsets are just gorgeous. Since this beach was formed as a result of a major bend in the river there has been a lot of sand deposition and build-up. The resulting beach and slightly higher flat camping area offer observation of anyone approaching from the far side of the road breach while the northern severed end of the Index-Galena Road remains five miles from any private property inholdings. Those private property owners rarely venture past their own property to this end. The result is that I usually have this place pretty much to myself whenever I visit.

A relative of mine seeking it's own store of sunshine

Life pretty much goes on without regard for my presence out here. I explore quietly and enjoy the little tidbits of nature I can glean . . . eagles and hawks going about their business or the occasional deer confidently walking down a deserted asphalt county road, its' concern no longer the danger of being hit by the cars that used to speed by on this road. The area is reverting.

It can be fun to pick your way along the rocky riverbanks

With the river running high I limit myself to enjoying the east side, hiking up the riverbank over smooth river-rock with the occasional need to wade in the water around a toppled tree or two (or three or ....) The instant numbing cold of glacial-green water reminds me to forgo any thoughts of checking out the far side. When the river goes down in late September it will be possible to ford with care. There are even more glorious sandy stretches on the far side with all the seclusion and privacy a person could ever want. But that has to wait for another few months.

An idea of the force of the river at this time

For now I'm content to soak in not only the bright sunshine, but also the power of Mother Nature at work. Not only the sights of whitecaps and roiling water, but also the sounds of the river . . . guesstimates of the millions of cubic feet of pure water flowing past my eyes every second. Even the verdant, spicy smell of wildflowers is intoxicating and a treat to the senses.

Just a great sunning rock!

Like any mountain river subject to frequent floods as the North Fork is, there are a lot of smoothed, time-worn granite boulders . . . river rock . . . ranging from the easily hefted boulder to multi-ton behemoths carried down the river in times past . . . and scoured clean and smooth by the action of water. They make good sunning rocks, their thermal mass slow to heat up in the fierce sun and conversely slow to cool down as the evening approaches. Lunch is had here . . . a packed ham and cheese sandwich and . . . you guessed it . . . coffee as I just sit there and enjoy the slight but constant breeze flowing down the river. Not too hot and plenty of sunshine! The breezes also keep the flying bugs in the treeline at bay.

In case any of you coffee connoisseurs were wondering, I carry a thermos of coffee on many of my hikes. The 4-cup thermos holds the coffee hot for eight hours or more and comes with a sling-bag that I can simply drape over my head to easily carry. Coffee is not the best beverage to slake your thirst in the wilderness. It is a diuretic and if anything, increases your need to watch out for dehydration. But I simply love my coffee. It's a concession I make.

I'm always reluctant to leave such beautiful areas
but I need some strenuous hiking

There is only so much lazy sunning I can take. I'm a fairly active person and I do like to explore and move. I can't cross to the far side of the river just yet and I don't feel like a long pavement hike further north to explore Silver, Troublesome or San Juan Creeks. I'd like some shade and canopy cover for awhile. Reluctant as I am to leave this perfect little beach and campsite, I've been sitting still for too long. I head back onto the toe of Iron Mountain and the portage back south.

Funny how when you are approaching the end of a hike and nearing the place where you parked and a probable necessity to get dressed . . . how you slow down . . . how you delay the inevitability of having to put clothes back on. Coming in high on the last portage I espy people down below at the end of the pavement . . . urbanites on a sunny afternoon drive coming to see for themselves the reason the road is closed . . . looking at the last of the water flowing down torn-up sections of asphalt. I pause, watching them from way above and knowing they will not wander more than a hundred feet or more. They will not give any thought of dealing with that cold water blocking their way. Their's is but a casual visit; they will play in the water sheeting the asphalt, let their dogs run loose . . . and then depart, never having given a thought to what's beyond that next bend in the river/road.

I slip on a pair of shorts and make my way back down to the intact pavement, surprising a few people when I emerge from the hillside seemingly out of nowhere. 'Just hiking' I relate. What lies beyond is my secret place. I selfishly don't tell the city visitors that they can see the destruction better if they take this trail around the torn-up section. I smile as I head back to my car. Behind me, kids and dogs play in the water while adults take pictures. Just past the barricade blocking the road there is a tailgate party complete with hibachi cooking hot dogs and a cooler full of beer. I exchange pleasantries but I wonder if these people will pack out the trash they are producing. Judging from the tossed cans and fast food bags laying about, I doubt it.

A reader suggested I try making a video.
Here's my first attempt

3pm - 6:30pm: Sunset Mine Revisited

The pickup truck I'd noticed earlier is no longer at the foot of the rough roadbed leading up to Sunset Mine. However, there were a couple of cars parked nearby on the shoulder of the road. They might be from the visitors behind me . . . or they might be someone checking out Sunset. Hard to tell as I stand by my car deciding what to do with the rest of the afternoon. Sunset is a short four mile hike and tempting, but not if I have to keep myself alert for some party also hiking the roadbed. Blocking the roadbed at this point has made Sunset very popular . . . if only because people are going to wonder where that dirt road leads. The afternoon sun has brought out a lot of people. I shrug. There is another route . . . straight up the Trout Creek bed, a scramble at best but definitely unused and unobservable from the easier access road.

The strenuous approach to the Sunset Mine site
. . . via the creek bed

I've hiked the roadbed many times . . . the creek bed only once. There is no trail . . . . only careful hopping from exposed boulder to boulder at the edges of the roaring creek. Fortunately there is sufficient grip with my hiking shoes and plenty of large boulders to make it possible and still stay reasonably dry. There is also plenty of sunlight and a constant cool downdraft of a breeze flowing down the creek bed to evaporate the sweat off my skin. At times I wonder how I'm going to bridge the next white-capped channel of cold water. I stop and think . . . and just enjoy. Soon a possible solution forms in my head and I'm off to test it. A challenge, yes. And I'm having fun.

The remaining foundation of the old Sunset Mine Mill,
now used for target practice

The creek bed and the road converge to reach the same elevation at about the tailings area of the old mine works, and that is where I pop out from the still raging creek back onto stable and level ground. Entering the large opening where the remaining concrete foundations of the mill where copper and gold ore was once crushed and washed with creek water, I note no one about. Everything is quiet except for the constant sound of the heavy creek behind me.

The mill site is about as far as most people ever go. There is a narrow and overgrown way leading in to where a few adits are explorable. That is the continuation of the old mining road that went in several more miles to other claims and mining operations of the past. Effluent coming out of the nearest mine opening (adit) runs down this path making it easy to look for footprints and recent activity. There is none.

The large clearing around the mill foundation is about as far as anyone goes. What I always see here is part of the reason I sometimes get nervous hiking nude on the access road . . . spent gun cartridges. Many of the people who come up here think of this place in history as a convenient spot to fire their weapons (and party). The bare ground is littered with hundreds (if not thousands) of spent cartridges and shotgun shell casings. The ancient concrete foundations are pocked and marred. Litter lays all about: crushed beer cans, shotup computer monitors, aeresol cans and even propane tanks. It looks like a war zone and you have to wonder about the sanity of some of these people. Not the type I'd like to encounter on the trail, even clothed. I see this place as one where a good cleanup would be well appreciated by the forest service.

One of the mine entrances

Other than the wide open space and sunlight, the old mill site holds little interest for me. I'm soon headed up the track on the far side. The mine entrances are in this direction . . . five adits and a stope, though only one entrance is easily found. Just follow the streamlet of water flowing down the trail. It comes directly out of the mouth of the mine entrance. Other adits and the massive stope are uphill through dense foliage. I have no desire to reblaze a path back up to them . . . nor any desire to explore dark, wet claustrophobic rat-tunnels.

This log bridge won't last too many seasons more

Once past the immediate mine workings the canopy opens up again with a widened trail. A hald a mile further and the trail tees to another coming in from a decaying log bridge over the still-vigorous creek. That trail is overgrown on the other side. It once served the Merchant Claim on the opposite mountain.

Cascades of wide waterfalls on the
upper reaches of Trout Creek

Though I'd like to hike the trail to its' terminus a few miles further along, time is becoming a factor. Coming up the side of the creek has taken time. This is definite bear country and late afternoon is the time for momma and baby bears to go wandering. I don't like to be moving in bear country anywhere close to sunset. So, I turn back for the slow amble. Soak it all in . . . on the mining road this time ...

Taking the easy way on the flip-flop
. . . the old mining road

7pm - 7:30pm: Raptor Point on the Skykomish

Driving back down Highway 2, the light of day is still enticing me. I really don't want to leave and head back into the city. It's an impulse that makes me suddenly turn on my turn signal and pull off the highway to the small roadside clearing that surprisingly reveals a small sign pronouncing a forthcoming state park at Raptor Point. There are no other cars parked here. Opportunities ...

Raptor Point is newly-acquired land that the state is holding in conservancy trust to eventually form a state park east of Goldbar. The small acreage along the Skykomish River has no facilities and is unimproved other than a few 'social' trails that people have long used to get down to the sandy beach on the lee side of Raptor Point. Fly fishermen sometimes use the trail to access the river, sometimes you will see dog-walkers, and the beach must see its' share of nighttime party-use judging by the firepits on the beach. But often there is no one there and as the worn tread serves the only access down the bluff to the beach, at least an inbound nude hike is possible.

Lots of deadfall makes the short trail mine

I knew I had this place to myself when I came across the first fallen tree right across the trail. No attempt to remove it or provide access beyond. I had to climb and crawl over the deadfall. There was much more further in.

A pleasant stroll around the apex of Raptor Point

Once down on the point watched a Burlington Northern train speed along on the opposite bank. The point is a mixture of river-smoothed granite and lush patches of sand. The Skykomish flow wide and lazy at this point. During river-rafting season, this is a common area to see rafts and kayakers float on by. None at this time of the day though. Last year I was laying lazy on a patch of warm sand and was surprised by a gaggle of kayaks. They waved . . . I waved back. They couldn't have missed that I was nude.

However, this is a state park (or soon to be one). Nudity is specifically prohibited in state parks. For now it is rarely utilized or administered and I enjoy a quiet stroll around the point as far as I can. Then it's head back up the bluff trail . . . dressed. Too easy to be surprised by an incoming dog-walker.

7:45 - 9pm-ish: A gated logging road off of FS 62

Nothing more than hiking shoes, my hat and a cup of coffee.
Mt Index in the back catches the last rays of sun

My last little hike is something I'm getting into a habit of doing. FS 62 into the Proctor Creek Drainage is the last chance to get in some nude time before Goldbar and the other small towns on the way back. A mile in and there's a gated logging road switchbacking up the lower flanks of Mount Persis through clearcut.

Logging clearcut is not particularly attractive or scenic. It is rather sullen in a way when you think of all those trees coming down and what it must have been like before. But this is Weyerhauser land with a Forest Service Road through. Clearcut does give you the sun though . . . and far views over the lower Skykomish River valley. I can't complian because I've always had this road to myself.

Overlooking the Proctor Creek clearcuts
as the sun sinks below the mountains

With this past seasons winters storms and the existing vast clearcuts, the remaining trees near the highway suffered a lot of blowdown in the heavy wind storms. Now even that is gone and there are no trees from where I stand right down to Highway 2 far below. Where once I couldn't see the forest service road, now it stands out in stark contrast to treep stumps and piles of snags. An ugly sight. Fortunately new trees and verdant succulents are taking over and hiding the worst of it.

As is becoming a pattern, I leave my clothes behind and hike on with only shoes, my hat and a freshly-poured cup of coffee. I don't need anything else in this end-of-day easy stroll. Watching the sun sink below the western ridges is perhaps the best part of the whole day.

The sun has almost set and it's time to say 'good night' and . . .
I'm out of coffee!

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