Monday, September 17, 2012

Skinny Dipping in the North Fork of the Skykomish: Sep 14th, 2012

Skinny-dipping in the ice-cold glacier fed waters of the Skykomish River

Hot, sunny weather . . . and a naturally-formed deep pool of icy-cold water at the confluence of two branches of the upper North Fork of the Skykomish River?  What better way to cool off?

It all starts with a jaunt exploring and updating my list of camping places along the Beckler River and the upper segment of the North Fork Skykomish River above Jacks Pass in the Cascades.  (Note: until I get around to updating the above webpage, Troublesome Creek and San Juan campgrounds (which suffered tremendously from the floods) are actually accessible with the reopening of the Index-Galena road from the Jacks Pass side).

No long hike today . . . I'd started out too late.  But upon crossing the FS63 bridge at the base of Jacks Pass where it crosses the North Forth of the Skykomish River, I'd noted that a great river-side camping spot had not been occupied yet.  So I zipped on in and claimed it for myself . . . at least for the day.

This spot is very popular, being right beside the ever-busy FS 63 bridge.
Not a great place to remain nude and out in the open as cars traveling FS 63 slow down on the bridge and look down to see if the site is available.  I'm not planning to camp here but as there are no reasonable and adequate pullouts nearby I do need a spot to park while I head over to the other side of the road (and bridge) to closed-off camp sites and the upper stretches of the river from the bridge toward Goblin Creek further north.  This spot serves me well.  

First order of business, the previous occupants left a mess of garbage on the site so I busy myself with a large trash bag to pick up bottles, beer cans and unburned aluminum foil left in the campfire ring.  A few cars do slow and pass by but with the trash bag, I'm obscure enough to bring into question whether I'm nude or not.  It's an enjoyable fifteen minutes of civic duty.  But there is a hike in my future ...

Atop the protective levee on the other side of the bridge.
The roadside site is coveted.  But the real, unseen gems in this area are the abandoned campsites on the north side of the road.  You used to be able to turn in and drive down into half a dozen tenting areas under old growth.  During the disastrous floods of Nov 2006 the river jumped the twenty-foot high levee and reeked havoc in the low-laying bowl that formed the camping area.  The Forest Service later bulldozed a berm across the entrance and let the area go fallow.  But that hasn't stopped intrepid campers from occasionally parking off-road somewhere and hiking their gear the couple of hundred feet into these great sites.

Toward the rear at the end of the levee, one of the higher tent sites opens onto the side tributary of the river.  On the other side of the tributary is an overgrown and hard to make out jeep trail that follows the open area beside the floodplain north to the river.

On the Skykomish floodplain
This river changes and re-sculpts the floodplain every year.   Since the floods, alders have taken root and flourished in the open . . . making navigating your way difficult except for the nearby open areas.   But there is almost a mile of floodplain that I remember exploring from the past, and to get in further I have to physically push myself through thickets of young alders.

One of many fords of the shallow flow of the Skykomish.
When I headed out earlier in the day, I knew that I'd probably be hiking riverside.  I assumed that my pair of well-used water-socks were in the car.  I was disappointed when I only found one of the pair in the trunk.  I went on without them, sure that I could do any fords barefooted.  Not a good idea as those shallow rocks are extremely slippery, the uneven bottom painful on bare soles, and plenty of places to twist an unprotected ankle.  Nevertheless, I made it over the first, second and third fords with a lot of patience and slow choosing of my steps.  If the river had been any higher or faster it would have been difficult keeping my footing.

Warming up after skinny-dipping

At the confluence of another couple of wayward branches of the river a deep, crystal-clear pool of water had formed . . . still water.  It didn't take much to convince me to remove the boots one more time and carefully step my way into the water.  Didn't last long for the water was simply to cold.  But for the few moments I was in there it sure felt good.  The sun warmed me up pretty quick once I was out of the water.

There were plenty of sandy patches around to make my own small clothing optional beach where I snoozed and drank in the sunlight.

Heading back to the car

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