November 1, 2009

The woods were lovely, dark and deep…

Filed under: Hiking, Mining — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 12:06 am
The woods were lovely, dark and deep...

Dark and deep

With apologies to Robert Frost, the woods on Anderson Mountain were dark indeed, and we had miles to go. We had one of those steady drizzles all day which can be a bit annoying, but also adds a sheen and a richness to the foliage which almost makes one forget the freezing hands and the soggy socks.

Darrington Phyllite outcrop on the trail

Darrington Phyllite outcropping

I was taken with the many outcrops and loose chunks of the slaty gray phyllite rock that the mountain is mostly made of. It is called the Darrington Phyllite and is widespread in our area (and apparently as far away as Darrington). It is associated with the Shuksan Greenschist that forms Mount Shuksan, and we see it on lots of trails, including Goat Mountain (which is one big chunk of phyllite) and Lily and Lizard lakes.

Phyllite – a fine-grained metamorphic rock with a well-developed laminar structure, intermediate between slate and schist in degree or metamorphism.

Which is to say that it fractures along planes that are sort of slate-like, but not nearly flat enough for a blackboard or even a roofing tile. And those planes can have an almost silvery metallic shine, which is also enhanced by the rain.

This particular phyllite also has many intrusions of light-colored minerals (quartz and feldspars) that were deposited in cracks from superheated solutions that seeped up from magma chambers at some point in the rocks formation. These solutions also typically carry metals in solution, including precious ones like gold and silver as well as more mundane but valuable elements like lead. Indeed, most of the successful gold mines in the area, including the only remaining active mine, the Lone Jack near Twin Lakes, were carved into these quartz seams in the Darrington Phyllite.

Intrusion in Phyllite

Intrusion in Phyllite

But back to the hike. I have been on this hike several times with different groups, but always before we had started at the trailhead near Alger-Cain Lake Road, at an elevation of about 500′, and we’d never made it to the summit. This time, Pat had checked with the DNR and knew that we could drive from south of Alger to a trailhead at Big Stump, an enormous old cedar stump next to the road. We took a few wrong turns on our way up the logging road, but we did eventually find Big Stump. This was going to cut 1100 feet of elevation gain and about 2.5 miles off the hike, greatly increasing our chances of getting to the top.

On the other hand, it meant we would be going where I’d never been before, and that always makes me nervous. I don’t know how much of a leader I am, but I know that I am a really crappy follower. People still talk about the impromptu “Chuckanut Ridge Death March” where we tried to get from the top of the ridge to Lost Lake on the east side of the ridge by hiking steeply down the west side of said ridge. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work out very well.) As it happened I had transferred onto my GPS a track from a previous hike, and had looked the map over pretty well and traced one road, the one that led to the summit, onto the GPS.

We followed the Pacific Northwest Trail (PNT) on our way up the west side of the mountain, and when we got near the summit (and near the end of my GPS route), those who had been there before agreed that we should do “The Loop”. The previous mile or so had been on a “good” logging road that bypasses the summit and continues on down the east side, ultimately emerging on Highway 9 near Wickersham. I figured that “The Loop” would mean following the PNT along an old abandoned road to the summit (which was on my GPS) and looping around and reconnecting with the “good” road (which was not) and following it back up to the start of “The Loop”.

(I should point out that the PNT, with its distinctive white blazes on the trees, continues on down the east side, following the road to Wickersham. We did not want to go that way. Really.)

So we followed the abandoned road, which curls around the summit, to its end and then started down a trail, and steeply down at that, which would loop down to the road. We stopped for lunch in a protected spot with some convenient logs for sitting, and shortly after resuming the trail abruptly ended at a road. It was headed uphill to the south – “just the ideal thing for getting back to the start of The Loop,” thought I. But it didn’t look right to Pat and he headed on down a steep slope with no suggestion of a trail – a lot of logging debris, a real mess.

I was not happy. We were already several hundred feet below the start of the loop, headed downhill in the opposite direction, and still seeing some PNT blazes – which would be good if we wanted to go to Wickersham. But we didn’t want to go to Wickersham. Really. Considering the difficulty we had had earlier just finding the trailhead, I was beginning to lose confidence in our leader. I was about ready to head back up the way we’d come, despite the very steep slog back up to the summit, and I think most of the other hikers felt the same. We held back but I went far enough to keep sight of the leaders and was just about to pack it in when Marjan called back that Pat had found a place he recognized. I was deeply reluctant to follow, since I would probably be dragging the rest of the hikers along if I did. (Did I mention that we didn’t want to go to Wickersham?)

But I have a lot of faith in Pat. He’s been around here all his life and he’s never led us very far astray. (He often gets blamed for the Chuckanut Ridge Death March, but that fiasco really belongs to someone else, who will remain nameless). So I went back and got the others, and made a deal with myself that I would try to keep my mouth shut for awhile. But if we got down to the 2500′ level I would raise hell. (We were already about 500′ below the summit (3300′) and had to get back to 3100′ at the start of The Loop.) We caught up to Pat at the road, which at least was aiming in the right direction but was still going down. Finally at about 2700′ the road turned up and after about a mile we found ourselves back up at the start of the Loop, with no casualties and none the worse for wear. Pat had been right all along – apparently some workers had been up there this summer with their Tonka trucks and had obliterated that one portion of the trail. Good ol’ DNR – you gotta love ’em!

1 Comment »

  1. Excellent post, Al! I knew sooner or later you would begin to give us geology lessons that I can actually remember because they’re written down. It was truly a nice hike, even in the rain, even in the cold. And yes, it was dark, and yes it was hard to follow Pat down that trail, but we did, and it was a success. You will have to whisper to me sometime who was the actual culprit who was responsible for the Death March, which is mentioned whenever we go astray.

    Comment by DJan — November 1, 2009 @ 7:08 am

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