Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Money Creek Clearcut Nude Snow Hike

This could be a ski slope . . . but it's all mine today

Finally got out for a nude hike on Tuesday upon hearing that the temperatures would be in the mid-50s . . . which usually means lower to mid-40s in the Cascades (which average 10 degrees cooler than Seattle). Indeed, that was the case as I passed Sultan on the way up. The reader-board sign said the temperature was 57F at 10:30am. Unusual February temperatures but who was I to argue. Somewhere out there there was a nude hike waiting to commence.

The Old Cascade Highway plowed but nowhere to park

I already knew a lot of my favorite locations would be out of the question . . . simply for lack of access. The Index-Galena Road had been plowed but no one had paid any consideration to leaving the pullouts unblocked of snow berms. No-go down there unless I wanted to hike a mile or so clothed to get to a likely hike. Besides, this time of year the N. Fork of the Skykomish River valley does not get much direct sunlight. I would have to go higher into the Cascades.

Further west the Beckler River Road was unplowed. Some intrepid 4x4ers had breached the snow berm across the entrance but it was not something I was willing to try in my Civic. I headed into Skykomish for lunch at the Cascadia Inn and to mull over some ideas. After a great meal (as usual) I decided on checking out the Money Creek area . . . an area I haven't hiked in several years, and never in the winter.

An eastbound BNSF Train passes as I get ready to hike

I got lucky at the east edge of Skykomish with this plowed pullout on the main road. Plenty of room to park and close to an obscure trail entrance that locals have used for years. Well, not actually an established trail as it is more of a shortcut to old logging road further up one of the flanks of Sobieski Mountain overlooking the town of Skykomish. The area up there is popular with the locals for horseback riding . . . the pullout a place often used to park the horse trailers. The equine trail is a little ways back. Much too open to the Old Cascade Highway that serves as the main road through Skykomish. Behind me is that cross-slope, under canopy route with few visual cues as to where to go. In it's favor, it gets to a large clear-cut rather quickly and, if I undress quickly and get into the entrance, affords me the opportunity to hike nude from the git-go. Last thing I want to do is startle a happenstance passing car coming or going from normally-conservative Skykomish. I like and know a lot of people who live there.

Alas, though no cars came by while I was in a semi-state of undress (in a wintery month), as I was packing the last of my supplies in my backpack wouldn't you know it but a BNSF freight train slowly churns by on it's way the the Cascade Tunnel. I stood my ground, waved at the crew, took their picture, and then nonchalantly turned and strode off naked into the thick cover of the evergreens behind me. Bet they are still wondering about the sanity of the folk who live out in this area. Sometimes it just does the psyche good to say 'tough, I'm hiking nude' and let others deal with it. Besides, they would soon have other things more important on their minds and soon, many miles away. Meanwhile, I had a hike to get underway, a little cold weather acclimatization to suffer, and a some memory-jogging to recall the best cross-country route to take under these trees and intercept the switch-backing horse trail way up the slope.

Into the shaded canopy I go

Once under the trees and onto deep, but solid snow, the road is no longer visible behind me. It is quickly forgotten along with cars, trains and the rest of the accouterments of civilization. I'm in nature here. There is little sound other than the delightful crunch of my boots making perfect imprints in the crisp snow crust. The skins tightens . . . a response to the crisp cold air. Body hairs stand on end and it's all a delightful tickle as I take the lower reaches at an easy amble to get muscles stretched and warmed up. I'm in no hurry . . . all of it is good.

There has been significant melt, refreeze and consolidation in the snowpack over the past two weeks. My weight is easily supported with some careful route-seeking. Meander . . . avoid the obvious washes for potential weak spots over creeks . . . stay to the higher ground. At least snowshoes are not required . . . yet!

Tough going on these steep slopes

The whole point of taking this route is to get to the sunlight of the clearcut in a mile or two instead of three to four times that distance. That means some steep travel ahead. Now I'm really happy I don't have to deal with the snowshoes. Dig the toes of the boots in . . . gain purchase . . . and step up another foot or two. The heart pumps and I'm actually beginning to feel overheated.

Coming out of the canopy into clearcut

It's quite some time before suddenly I trudge out from under the trees at the edge of the clearcut. The slope softens here . . . snow deeper. Still, the boots hold on the surface.

An uncharted service road makes the going easier

The straight course of an uncharted logging or service road makes going real easy. I don't know where this particular road goes but who cares as long as I can find my way back to where I came out of the trees. Eventually, everything opens up. The clearcut.

Enjoying the bright sunlight before heading back

The clearcut is not large but it is wide open to the sky and the delightful sunlight falling warmly on my skin. There are tracks of a lone cross-country skier but otherwise I have it all to myself. Up a little higher I find an ancient tree stump, clear it of snow and set down to bask in the sun. Truly a nice day to just be there and enjoy while sipping hot coffee from my thermos.

As the sun dances with the western ridges on it's way to bed I reluctantly start to head back . . . before I lose too much light to find my own trail in. The afternoon has been great but by the time I get back to the car I know I'll have sore muscles later on. Still, it was worth it.

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