|West Cady Ridge Trailhead|
Saturday, August 28th, started out with grandiose plans . . . despite the less than stellar weather and the fact that it was a Saturday when the trails were bound to be busy. Before I go any further, any chance to enjoy being outdoors, au' natural, in the beauty of the forests and mountains of the Cascades, is good. However, this hike could have been so much more.
To start with I got a late start. I had intended to hit my bank up as soon as they opened at 9am (ya need gas and coffee cash, after all). At 8am the phone calls started. deal with 'em. Didn't get on the road until almost noon. Still had to get some cash, fill up the gas tank and grab the obligatory coffee. Once the essentials were out of the way it was time to strip down the the other barest essentials (a long tee shirt) and off to the mountains with less than grandiose plans of making Benchmark summit on the ridge. Who would have though Monroe would be hosting the Evergreen State Fair this same weekend? Fair traffic . . . took me an hour to inch through it to the last espresso stand in Goldbar and a chance that I was discreet and covered up enough (only had on a long tee shirt, remember?)
I love to drive nude (or with as little clothing as appropriate). It's an addictive sort of thing . . . the driving just so much more comfortable and giving a pre-taste of the kiss of sun on bare skin that you are seeking. It took some time for me to get used to driving nude . . . a confidence sort of thing that if I couldn't see into the cars that were whizzing by, then neither could they have any real impression of my state or dress or undress as they passed me. Nowadays I'm down to a lone tee shirt as I leave Seattle and lose that tee shirt once on the long stretches of Hwy 2 past Goldbar. Nude time prolonged three or four hours longer.
Fresh coffee in hand and finally onto open highway one had to wonder about the gathering clouds over the Cascade crest. Nonetheless, the weather held and even showed nice periods of sunshine as I drove the Beckler River Road just past Skykomish.
With the closure of the Index-Galena Road, the Beckler River Road via Jacks Pass is the only way to access the trailheads on the north segment of the loop. The Beckler River Road (aka FS 65) is a nice asphalt-paved road for the first seven miles . . . passing a number of great undeveloped campsites by the river. At the Rapid River junction the road becomes potholed gravel as it climbs toward Jacks Pass. At the pass, right leads to Evergreen Mountain (the subject of a few of my other hikes), the hard switchback on the left goes up on San Juan Mountain and some great vistas over the North Fork valley. The descending left goes over the pass and down into the North Fork Skykomish River valley. That road is gated several miles into the valley at the top of the loop just after the turn for FS 63 and a number of trailheads, including Blanca Lake and the triple one for Quartz Creek, Pass Creek and the West Cady Ridge trails.
It’s a Saturday . . . actually a perfect day for hiking (slightly on the cool side with the clouds keeping temperatures in the 60F range.) Driving up the narrow gravel of FS 63 I almost decided it might not be a bad idea to at least put a tee shirt back on . . . what with the number of vehicles I met. Halfway, at the Blanca Lake Trailhead spur, you might have thought they were having a convention. Parking area overflowed and SUVs parked for several hundred feet in both directions along the shoulders (what little there was). Glad I didn’t decide to try
but now I was wondering what the trailhead parking serving Quartz Creek, Pass Creek/NF Skykomish and the West Cady Ridge trails looked like. Already my mind was going through the possible alternatives. Blanca Lake
Fortunately that far trailhead was a little better . . . seven vehicles in the large gravel expanse of the parking area. The conundrum with trailheads like this is that you really didn't know which trails the occupants of those vehicles choose to hike. They could all be on the very trail I want to hike nude upon.
Short of the trailhead but in view a large gathering had set up campsite by the river and were attempting to see how much smoke their raging campfire could make. Might explain why I never had a problem with gnats and mosquitoes as I usually do that close to the river. Actually temperatures and the lateness of the season had a lot to do with the lack of pesky bugs.
The Forest Service also had four horse trailers parked short of the trailhead. At first I thought they would be on the Quartz Creek trail but I later saw fresh, shod hoof prints on the lower West Cady trail. Ah well, I'm here . . . the day is still nice . . . and there's no one around the actual trailhead. Let's at least see how far hike nude. I didn't have any allusions . . . this trail can be pretty busy despite it's difficulty and length . . . especially on weekends. The one redeeming factor in favor of nude hikers is that you have great sight distance over a majority of the trail. Th quiet of the airy canopy makes it easy to hear approaching hikers with plenty of advance time to make decisions. The lower West Cadyblindspots over the ridge toes and curves.
So it was with reasonable confidence that I stayed nude, donned my pack . . . and headed off the wide open expanse of the parking area (before another car unexpectantly showed up) . . . and into the obscurity and quietness of the trail. Though in diffuse shade and filtered sunlight, the temps were comfortable enough to hike.
The first segment of the West Cady Ridge trail parallels the river for a quarter mile or so before it comes around a bend to a well-made footbridge spanning a scenic gorge that the river has cut in the soft bedrock below. Exposed as this location is (both to the Pass Creek trail diverging slightly above, and the first dog leg of the Cady Ridge trail onto Excelsior Mountain), it is well worth it to spend some time enjoying the deep glacier-green pools beneath the bridge where the river has been forced to scour into an abrupt 90 degree turn and change direction. Just past the bridge is the formal boundary into the brand new Wild Sky Wilderness area.
|The foortbridge over the NF Skykomish and the beginning of the trail|
into the Wild Sky Wilderness
The lower portion of this trail was meant to be enjoyed with all the senses. It is quiet . . . it is a melange of greens and earth-tone browns. The trail is well-made and maintained . . . that in itself worth noticing and observing . . . especially since sooner or later we (those involved with Scenic Hot Springs) are going to have to do some major trail improvement at the springs. This trail is properly cut a good eight inches to get below the overburden . . . which helps to insure the trail will not sprout new vegetation.
There has been a lot of consideration to snowmelt and rain runoff . . . both at the lower moderate slopes and higher up where the switchbacks are shorter to run the steepening sections to the ridge, proper. I find myself stopping at each switchback and bend in the trail and studying how the runoff will be redirected to prevent trail erosion.
Well, that would teach me to pay attention to y wider surroundings because off the next switchback above this couple is descending at a brisk pace and I'm completely unaware until they are twenty feet away and greeting me. If I'd been paying attention the bright colors of their Gortex and spandex outfits, along with the 'clunk-clunk' of fancy aluminum trekking poles, would have alerted me well in advance. Grin and bare it, as they say. No problems . . . we exchanged pleasantries . . . they'd been camping on the ridge and were now on their way back. So much for being discreet on this popular trail, but 'no harm, no foul'. The meeting had actual been quite pleasant and I was soon back to studying the construction of a puncheon bridge over a wetlands section.
Getting onto a trail late you eventually reach a point where meeting other users becomes problematic. Day hikers would have already made the trek back down . . . or so it would be assumed. First encounter . . . pleasant, so relax, let down the guard and enjoy the hike.
|Sight distance back down the trail gives the advantage|
to those on the high ground
The advantage on the trail goes to those who have the higher ground. When we hike we watch the trail (and ground) in front of us . . . we do not look up. Those on the trail higher up can see what is on the switchbacks below and that is where my next three companions come out off . . . just where the slope really steepens and the switchbacks do some innovative routing to gain elevation. A blindspot that I knew was there yet made an assumption and ran into an elderly woman's trekking party working their way done at a brisk pace. Nothing to do but courteously stand aside to allow them to pass. No words exchanged but at least and couple of smiles and eye contact. Okay . . . two encounters . . . now I've go to have cleared the mountainside. To bolster my experience, the kilt goes into the back pack . . . out of reach.
Grin and Bear it
On the steeper sections as you gain the ridge, the trees thin and really open up . . . giving way to thick stands of huckleberries, mostly denuded of their fruit. The switchback legs are only a few hundred feet in length before another unending change in direction upward. I was just about to gain the open slope, proper (three more legs, if I remember correctly), when I caught a flash of jet black go right across the narrow trail fifty feet in front of me. It's remarkable just how sensitive the human eye is to motion. At that moment I hadn't been looking up the trail . . . instead checking the visible dog legs below. Yet that momentary flash of black caught my attention and focus . . . long enough to make out the beautiful, furry shape of a yearling black bear who was totally unaware of my presence.
|Black Bear on the trail|
When I hike I don't make a lot of noise . . . mainly to allow myself to become immersed in the surroundings instead of intruding. That may also allow me to hear oncoming hikers early but it is also a bad idea in bear country when you absolutely do not want to surprise a bear into defending itself. Still, with the popularity of this trail the last thing I expected to come upon were bears.
It kind of startled me to stop. The yearling had come from downslope and on off into the thick huckleberry bushes that hedged the trail very close. I stood there listening and wondering where it had gone and whether I should go on or not. I also had an overpowering urge to unsling my backpack and put on some clothes on the off-chance I got mauled by a bear. Wouldn't do for the headlines to say, "Naked man attacked by a bear!" Strange thoughts, I admit.
In any case, I wasn't going anywhere until I knew what the situation was. I had bear spray and a couple of flares in my pack but not within easy reach. I didn't feel in any immediate danger at the moment . . . simply a bear on the trail . . . unaware or ignoring me. I powered up the camera and aimed up trail . . . just in time to catch a second yearling come bounding across a little bit further on. I got it's picture just barely (pun definitely not intended.)
Bears are solitary creatures. Two together . . . especially young ones . . . means momma is still in charge. I was just about to ponder that little factoid in the pregnant stillness on that mountainside . . . was just about to retrieve my bear spray and have a flare at the ready . . . when a loud crash of what I can only surmise to be 'momma' came from just up above and behind me in the thick bushes. Now I'm nervous. I ain't continuing up that trail where two bears, still under their momma's protection, just bounded across ad if I weren't there . . . and not I'm doubly worried that momma might have cut off my escape route.
"Here bear" . . . "Hi bear", I sing-song. My hiking staff taps nearby rocks and bushes. Let 'momma' know I'm here. I still the nervous knot . . . all my senses attuned to where the loud crash came from. I have to will myself to turn and start slowly walking back the way I came . . . all the while talking to the unseen bears and making tapping noises with my inadequate staff. I don't fully relax until I'm well off the steep sections and onto the longer switchbacks below. By then I'm out of huckleberry territory and back into the airy canopy . . . not so hedged in. Grin and Bear It!
The hike back out is perhaps the best part of any hike for me. I thoroughly took my time and enjoyed every moment of freedom . . . even to the point of lingering in frequent patches of late afternoon sunshine to absorb the warmth and vitality through the pores of my skin. If only the textile-impaired could experience these sensations . . . realize the skin is our largest sensory organ and should not be covered up.
By the time I crossed the footbridge over the NF Skykomish and ambled up into the now-empty trailhead I noticed the horse trailers were gone. Though I'd seen fresh horseshoe prints on the trail they certainly didn't get by me so I have to assume they were later on one of the other trails . . . Quartz Creek. Driving back . . . again without bother to put on anything . . . Blanca Lake was still packed with SUVs at it's trailhead. The sun was going down so they'd better hustle. The Blanca Lake trail in the dark is treacherous.
Post Hike Visit to Scenic
I often wish I could live as a full-time nudist but alas that's not reality. So I'm never satisfied with my nude time. I often prolong the experience after a hike by heading to Scenic Hot Springs for a soak and, in general, check for trespassers and conditions. I've made it back to Hwy 2, resisting the urge to pull the tee shirt out of the back seat. It's a silly sort of urge because I know that those oncoming cars cannot see into my vehicle to any real extent. Driving nude down the highway is just absolutely comfortable and empowering.
At the gate to the springs there is a car parked. On the dash is a note saying they have permission. Well, possible . . . I'm not the only steward. However, the sun is getting lower and the conditions we impose on access require all visitors be off the mountainside by nightfall. Night soaking has been the main problem area that we are trying to address and correct.
So onward I go to see if they are heading back down. My car can't make the rough road to the trailhead . . . I park in the clearcut and scan the far BPA road for signs of people. The best location is by a BPA tower where I can see everything going on . . . and hang out basking in the waning sun. I love the colors the late afternoon and dusk imbibe on everything they illuminate. My favorite time of day for photography.
|Watching the lightening storm while waiting|
It's a little chilly out . . . a storm approaching. I really don't feel like hiking the steep mile and a half up to the springs to kick someone out. I really don't feel like dressing to counter the weather I know is coming. As the landscape darkens with dusk I stand up at my perch beside the tower and watch the flashes of lightening on the east side of the Cascade crest. Major thunderstorms there and the clouds are also building above the west side. If I hiked up to the springs I'd want to do it nude . . . even in darkness. However, if all hell broke loose . . . nah. I don't want to pack rain gear and such. I'll just wait for them to eventually come prancing on down. I have a front seat view of a coming thunderstorm and the heater in my car, if need be.
Eventually, our overstepping guests come back down . . . ten thirty at night. Well, I hope they enjoyed their soak. And I've overstepped my endurance. I follow them back out and secure the gate. Time to drive home.
More images from this hike are in the JAlbum here.