Sunday, August 26, 2012

Johnson Ridge to Joan Lake, Aug 17th, 2012

The start of the trail onto Johnson Ridge
Johnson Ridge is one of those easily accessible and popular trails off the Beckler River Road in the Wild Sky Wilderness of the Central Washington Cascades.  In summer this trail is simply too popular to hike nude on the weekends but given a nice sunny weekday and a check of the trail-head parking area you can have this trail all to yourself for a great hike along the ridge line over three summits before dropping down after four miles to a pleasant little lake full of rainbow trout (which also makes this lake popular amongst the bait and tackle crowd willing to hike in).

A leisurely hike through the canopy to the first summit.
The initial part of the hike is spent gaining the top of the first peak by way of an old jeep trail.  Once on the top you head east along a wide saddle and into open canopy.  This part of the hike is pleasant with just enough shade to take a little of the heat of the midday sun off you, yet not too much shade to make your claustrophobic tenancies surface.
Fields of lupine and busy, buzzing bees.
The saddle between peaks opens up to fields of lupine, blueberry and huckleberry bushes.  This late in the season the scores of hikers that have already been upon this trail have stripped the berries . . . they are few and far between.  Standing in a field of lupine with hundreds of bees buzzing around yet not bothering you is a strange sensation.  You feel you should be running for cover ...

A steep trek to to summit of Sunrise Mountain at 5,056 ft.
The rise to Sunrise Peak is steady and then suddenly on the other side it is a drop of 300ft in a short distance into the next saddle leading to Scorpion mountain.  From here the trail starts narrowing on the top of the ridge before finally dropping to traverse the southern open meadows.

Open alpine meadows and plenty of sunlight.
The open meadow portion of the hike is perhaps the most pleasant,  Open sky and brilliant sunshine . . . and wide open vistas of the mountains to the south.  I stopped here for a long leisurely lunch and some wandering around.  I could have been completely satisfied with only making it this far but Joan Lake was beckoning not that much further away.

First view of Joan Lake from Scorpion Mountain
Rounding just below the southern rim of Scorpion Mountain, Joan Lake suddenly comes into view in a cul a couple of hundred feet below.  I'm surprised to see the lake still partially frozen at this time of year (I've hiked Joan Lake every year for the past 15 and have never seen it ice-coated in late August).

Snow and Ice traverse skirting (hopefully) the lake.
Getting down to the lake involves a series of steep switchbacks and tricky footing (as the trail definitely needs some maintenance).  At the southern end of the lake subject to the most shade it is snow and ice covered and you have to make an educated guess as to where the shoreline is and what part of the ice is over water.  Fortunately, this end of the lake is rarely more than a foot or two deep.

Joan Lake
From the northern outlet eventually leading down to the Rapid River there are a number of camping spots and places to simply enjoy the late afternoon sun.  And surprisingly few bugs.

On the way back through meadows again.
Eventually, you have to give the siesta up and start the trek back . . . knowing there is a lot of elevation needed to gain before the long trek back down to the trailhead.  Years ago I tried to follow the long abandoned Kelly Creek Trail that comes into Joan Lake from the south (in the Martins Creek watershed).  I found the faint tread as far as Captain's Point and then lost the route over a talus field within sight of the meadows I'd just traversed below Scorpion.  Before climbing back up I explored around to see if I could find any old blazes that might indicate where the Kelly Creek Trail connected.  I thought I might have seen indications but was not sure.

Back at the trail-head parking area after the hike.
It took several hours to get back to the trailhead and wind down from the vigorous pace I'd been keeping.  First order of business . . . an energy snack and a cup of coffee from the thermos.  Since the trailhead sits in a wide space at 3,600ft I have great views and open space to relax sore muscles before the drive back down the mountainside.

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