Friday, October 8, 2010

Lower Lewis Creek, a State Park and Heybrook Lookout

Where Lewis Creek Meets the North Fork and a Delightful Little Park

Forks of the Sky State Park (in Trust)
Normally I don't go nude in State Parks because there is a prohibition against nudity in Washington State Parks.  State Parks also tend to be heavily used by the public.  However, there are some exceptions and a good example is the spate of acquisitions of private land by the state in the wake of record flooding in recent years.  This has led to a number of small-acreage areas being held in trust for further development.  They are relatively unknown, off the beaten path and lacking the amenities that typically attract the public.  The perfect opportunity for a short nude stroll in nature.

Forks of the Sky (where the North Fork and the South Fork of the Skykomish River come together near Index, WA) is one of those small acquisitions.  The ten or so acres used to be private property until the North Fork wiped out a major portion of the riverbank, along with cabins.  The state purchased the distressed property and then promptly forgot about it.  I'd seen the old, rusted sign and gate before but paid little attention . . . until I saw the new sign in the image above.  I wondered.

A week later I stopped by the small pullout on the Index-Galena Road.  No one else parked nearby.  Nude hiking time!  The old road down the the former cabin site is still there . . . grassy-green overgrown.  Years ago I'd wandered down that road out of curiosity . . . turning back after coming across a No Trespassing sign in sight of the small riverside cabin.  Now all that is gone as I come across a bridge that I recall from memory.

Across an old wooden bridge
The stroll is absolutely peaceful amid all the spaced trees draped in thick Cascadian moss.  The county road is not that far behind me but I doubt I would have heard much road noise from an infrequent passing car.  All I can hear is the twittering of leaves and critters going about their business in the undergrowth.  I'm impressed at how open and level the area is.

Across another bridge, this one a footbridge over a small streamlet of Lewis Creek . . . and soon I'm at the original cabin site, a wide area of low bluff open to the river.  Someone (I doubt the state) has carried in and put together a very nice picnic table.

On the original cabin site
The hike in had been short . . . ten minutes at most.  But I know this can't be all . . . so it's off to search for side trails and I soon find them . . . again, someone has gone to a lot of time and effort to improve the network of level, maintained trails in this potential park.  Originally I wondered if the paths might be loop trails and so proceeded with my senses spread out.  I tend to avoid loop trails or trails that have entrances at both ends.  Eventually it becomes obvious that this is not the case . . . the trails parallel the river north, and there is nothing north of this area but thick forest and creek bed wetlands . . .  until a sharp bend in the river a mile or so to the north.

Well-maintained, rock-lined trails and easy river access
This set-aside park land is not very big.  Within a short distance the trail becomes rougher and peters out to nothing but a mass of brambles and gullies that no nude hiker would want to traverse (except maybe me . . . but not today).  

There is a foot-worn earthen ramp leading down onto the river-rock boulders of the North Fork . . . the floodplain particularly wide here.  I'm still well short of that sharp bend in the river and visibility from the paved county road and an oft-used camping area.  I head out into sunshine and open air.  The occasional beer can or potato chip bag attests to others going on this way at other times.  But not today.  I have the open flats of the river bed to myself.

Onto the floodplain of the North Fork
I particularly like hiking in the open . . . being slightly claustrophobic.  Open spaces around me is what I crave.  River beds just naturally attract me and the river bed of the North Fork of the Skykomish (or more accurately, the floodplain caused by the seasonal rains and snowpack melt) is one of my favorite places to hike nude.  For the most part, the North Fork has little activity along its' bank until it meets up with the South Fork at Index.  A few cabins, but little of anything else to worry someone about being seen.

This river has a history of flooding wide in its' course . . . and during low water months that leaves lots of room to hike over smooth-water-worn boulders and numerous patches of givable sand to claim as your own personal beach.  But most of all . . . despite its' openness, there is a real sense of privacy out there.  My meanderings take me from the river's slow summer babbling, over multi-ton boulders worn baby-skin smooth to the forest edges . . . and back.  No where in particular . . .

Coming down the middle of the floodplain, I eventually realize that I've come just enough around a ninety-degree bend in the river to be visible to anyone travelling the Index-Galena Road in the distance.  The movement of a lone car heading north on that road catches my attention.  My valued privacy is now gone.

The campsite I'd mentioned earlier is on a twenty-foot high crumbling bluff just around that bend.  I head toward the inside of the bend and spot a very worn trail leading in.  Not sure if anyone is using the campsites but they've always been a favorite stopping off point in the past.  I've just never approached them from this direction before . . . and I'm still not sure if I can.  But we will see.  Up the banks, over a few downed trees and into the brush.

Enough scrambling and trail-making to find a back way into the
campsite.  Back to the open spaces of the river.
Unfortunately I didn't make it far in before I heard the unmistakable sounds of people having a good time just beyond the impenetrable barrier of intertwined brush and sharp alder branches.  Guess a stop at that campsite is out of the question.  Besides, those brittle, sharp twigs have already scratched up enough of my body.  Back to the river and safer, open spaces.

My own, private, wind-screened sandy beach
Coming back down the river I stick to the inside, closer to the banks and following a sandy, deep gorge created at some time by seasonal flooding, but now dry.  Some scrambling getting over flotsam and water-torn logs the diameter of city buses for another of my favorite activities . . . walking the downed tree trunks.  It's in these flood-eroded gorges that I find the most sand and sunning opportunities.  Following a dry-water course outward to the main channel I come across a really nice, deep patch of sand almost in the middle . . . and it's screened by a line of young alder saplings, almost as if by design.  A natural windbreak and privacy screen.  How can I resist not taking a break?  Plop down and off with the shoes for a nice nap.  It's quite some time before I decide I've dawdled enough.   This visit to a potential State Park was meant only to be a quick foray.  The main goal was to hike the road beside the upper Lewis Creek on up to Heybrook Ridge.  Back onto the well-maintained paths in the forest.

Barefoot in the Park
Hiking nude is freeing . . . natural . . . wonderful.  Hiking nude without even your shoes is . . . sublime.  I get few opportunities to do it barefoot in the Cascades . . . footwear almost always being a necessity to protect the feet.  Hiking back to my car with my shoes slung over my shoulders, the feel of years of overburden giving just so under the soles of my feet can only be described as sensuous.  Purists call it 'free-hiking' and it is definitely that.  Having to put my shoes back on was almost as if I was putting clothes back on.  Was I still nude?

Crossing that last footbridge a friendly dog came trotting on up . . . followed a moment later, before I could unsling and search for cover . . . by it's owner, a middle-aged lady seemingly out of place smoking a cigarette and carrying a beer amongst such serenity.  She kind of chuckled as she stood aside to let me pass and then we exchanged pleasantries on how nice this place was while her dog let me scratch him behind the ears.  All the time she kept on smoking away and sipping beer.  No backpack . . . just someone appearing out of nowhere.  Weird.  If  a naked man in the wild bothered her she didn't show any indication . . . which was a good sign and definitely gratifying.  Back at my car I continued to wonder where she had come from because there were no cars parked along the road for as far as I could see.  It was time to head a half mile down the road to the Lewis Creek trailhead.

Lewis Creek and on up to Heybrook Ridge and the Lookout Tower

Lewis Creek is a straightforward hike for me.  I've done it dozens of times because the road is gated, and the route in an easy-enough grade to really be enjoyable in it's solitude.  In winter this is a great place to showshoe, nude or otherwise.

For the most part it follows Lewis Creek in it's lower sections before switchbacking and climbing south onto Heybrook Ridge.  Heybrook Ridge overlooks Hwy 2 and the Skykomish River just east of Index.  The highlight of any trip onto Heybrook is a visit to the top of a decommissioned fire lookout tower.  The standard route up is via a mile and a half trail from Hwy 2 . . . my back route is almost three miles of time to myself.   Eventually you come onto the ridge, intersecting the FS road that used to service the tower (and is now a little-used logging road from the town of Baring further east on Hwy 2.

A photo moment approaching the ridge...
Serendipity sometimes gives the best results.  At first I was going to toss this image, as it wasn't what I intended.  Here I am adjusting the camera and the timer goes off too soon (or more likely I wasn't paying attention).  But I actually like this composition and proportions.  Goes to show . . . sometimes just leave it alone.

Just beyond the point above the road tees with the right heading to the lookout tower.  Once on the other dirt road I tread quietly because I never know if hikers have been coming up to the tower from the more traditional side of the ridge.  Sometimes they wander off to do some exploring of their own, and Heybrook is popular.  Today, it wasn't.

The Fire Lookout Tower atop Heybrook Ridge
While this Lookout Tower has been decommissioned for years (with the upper enclosure boarded and locked) the lower observation platform is open and accessible to the public.  Sturdy stairs safely take the visitor to the top were they can gaze out over miles of the Skykomish River Valley and especially the peaks of Mount Index and Persis, nearby.

The view from the top
(and the traditional trail below)
Once at the top of the lookout tower you pretty much can see and know everything that is happening around you.  My little nude platform . . . I'll see anyone approaching a very long time before they'll have any idea I'm up there staring down on them . . . let alone they know I'm nude.  Kind of empowering and relaxing at the same time.  You want to linger there and I've often thought 'what a great place to camp out overnight'.

No claustrophobia here
Eventually you have to give up the castle on the hill and head back down before nightfall . . . of course, timing it to milk the most of the daylight nude.

The appropriate ending of any hike is, of course,
a long soak in the hot springs

A photo album with more pics from this hike is here:

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