May 25, 2011

Burnout Checkout

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: , — geezerwriter @ 8:30 pm
Old trails in the Burnout Road area

Old trails in the Burnout Road area

Last fall a clear-cutting operation on a parcel of private land adjacent to Larrabee State Park destroyed some informal trails that had been used for years to complete some loop hikes on the south end of Chuckanut Ridge.

On the map to the right the so-called “Burnout Road”, officially known as South Chuckanut Road, is the brown line in the lower portion, leading from the Clayton Beach trailhead to what I’ve labeled as “South Chuckanut Hill”. (You can enlarge the map by clicking on it.) The light and dark blue lines near the top comprise the South Lost Lake Trail.

The newly logged area is roughly square, with the corners near South Chuckanut Hill and the Lost Lake Junction. The green and orange lines are the boot-built trails that were more or less obliterated by the clear-cutting. The green line is called the Overlander Trail on some maps.

Yesterday (May 24) Fred and I hiked up to see if we could find a way to resurrect the two loops that have used this area: the Burnout Road hike, which followed the road and the orange line and part of the green line to connect with the South Lost Lake trail and return via Fragrance Lake; and the South Lost Lake lollipop, which came up in reverse to the Lost Lake Junction, followed the green trail around to the east side of Lost Lake (which is just off the map to the north), and the dark blue line back to that junction.

I was hoping to find a better way across the logged area than that big zigzag using the orange trail – if you blow up the map you can see that it drops down quite steeply and then climbs steeply back up the green trail. It’s good exercise but the hike is hard enough without that bit. Maybe we could just strike a bee line across the clearcut and save some climbing.

Shortly after we started up the road we were met by semi-trailer truck rolling slowly down. This is not the sort of thing one often sees on these logging roads – graders, back hoes, logging trucks maybe, but a full-sized semi? [Is it a contradiction to call something a “full semi”?] Further on we found a large slash pile, one of those loaders with a big claw on the end of an articulated arm and a huge chipping machine. Also a sign announcing that the area was open to hikers and bikers despite the ongoing “Biomass Recovery Project”, which made my day, since I always enjoy a fresh new euphemism. Or perhaps that’s not the right word for it – “euphemism” is usually used to mean a nice name for something naughty, but this is just a fancy name for something simple, like “sanitation engineer” for sewer worker.

The other cute thing about this post-logging cleanup operation is that the company name on the trucks was “Barker’s Chipping Service”.

So what seems to be going on is that dump trucks drive up to the logged site where another of the big articulated claw things loads them up with logging debris (or “slash”) which they bring down and dump on the pile at the chipping site. Then they chip all stuff into the big semi (which probably has an open top).

This all sounds very industrial, but it didn’t really disturb our hiking experience much. The chipping site, or Biomass Disaggregation Station, was uninhabited and quiet since the semi had taken off with its load of chips. We met a couple of loaded dump trucks coming down the road and one empty one passed us on its way back up.

Up at the logging site I was surprised by how small it looked. We could see across some low hills to the tree line marking the state park line and to the Biomass Accumulation and Lading Site (i.e., the claw thing). The road continued on but we couldn’t see exactly where because of the hills.

The View to the East

The View to the East

We climbed up onto a nearby hill that seemed to be the highest point in the clearcut and were treated to some nice views despite the cloudy skies. In the picture above, the view spans from Lookout Mountain and Lake Samish on the left to Blanchard Mountain on the right; at the extreme right you can just barely see the cliffs below Oyster Dome; on a better day Mount Baker would rise over the foothills just left of center.

Fred on The Stump

Fred on The Stump

There was also a fine view over the water to the west but I didn’t get any good pictures. The one on the left shows Fred surveying the domain (the bright spot near the center is Lost Lake) from atop the big stump where we stopped to have an early lunch and discuss where we should go exploring.

Wanderings - our track is in black

Wanderings - our track is in black

Fred had been up in this area last fall with a friend just as the logging was getting started and he was interested in trying to find the paths they had used; I was still leaning toward the bee-line approach. Since we had plenty of time, we settled on going back to the road and following it toward the claw thing and see if we could get to that area where the green trail turned east and then explore to the east.

We strolled along the road through a gentle S-curve, all the while studying the tree line for signs of openings that might have been trails. Just after reaching the place where the green trail should have been we saw something trail-ish heading east and followed it over a rise and down into a gully, but it soon petered out. We then tried to head north – the slope was too steep for me so I headed back up the gully while Fred went straight up the hill.

Neither of us found anything promising, so we regrouped on top of the hill and once again studied the tree line, which was pretty close now. I was by now close to certain that the old trail was along or pretty close to the new road and that we could easily get there in just a few minutes. So it was a good time to explore for the other trail. We picked a spot on the tree line and headed for it.

When we got there, I couldn’t see anything promising and was tempted to head straight west along the tree line back to the road, but Fred headed straight north into the woods and I followed merrily along – it was still early and we were close enough to the goal that we couldn’t get into any serious trouble. And sure enough we soon stumbled across a nice, wide trail heading east and west (at the point labeled 00510, if you’e following the map.) To the east it headed steeply downhill, heading in the general direction of the old green trail. We followed it for a couple hundred yards to get a better idea of its destination, but I was not eager to follow it too far – going all the way down and around Lost Lake would had several more miles to our outing and backtracking would not be easy (did I mention “steep”).

So we headed back west and in short order popped out on the old green trail, within sight of the sign marking the boundary of the state park. We had gotten to this point from the north last January on a little exploratory side trip from a hike to Lost Lake. (At that time the trail was posted with warning signs but they are no longer there.)

For good measure, we walked back out into the clearcut, where the trail very shortly joined the new road, and on to the point where we’d left the road earlier. We were fairly pleased with ourselves, having found some viable hiking routes, so we headed out to the north and took the Fragrance Lake and the Interurban trails back to the car. We went a total of almost 10 miles, but that includes all our wandering and backtracking.


The old Burnout Road loop is doable. On the positive side there are great new views from The Stump and along the new road (less than half a mile). The negatives are the 4 miles up Burnout Road itself and, in the short term, the truck activity on that road. The industrial activity was not a big deal in the clearcut; just the occasional slow moving truck. The chipping operation, which has to be pretty noisy, is a good ways down the road.

Another possibility would be coming up the Fragrance Lake trail and up to The Stump for the view, and back the same way. This would avoid most of the the truck traffic and almost all of the road hiking.

And it looks like the old green trail around Lost Lake has been at least partially replaced by a different trail through the woods. But this will require further investigation.

At the most recent planning meeting for the Trailblazers we responded to the heavy snow conditions in the Cascades by pushing the high country hikes back a couple of weeks into June and tentatively replacing them by Burnout Road and Cub Creek. The main reason we went on this Expotition was to check the viability of that choice. My reaction is positive. Any discussion?

May 3, 2011

Whither go we?

Filed under: Hiking — geezerwriter @ 4:34 pm
Olsen Creek Trails

Olsen Creek Trails

After all the time I’ve spent on Stewart Mountain the last few weeks, as described in my previous posts, Act I and Act II, the only thing I’m sure of is that I don’t want to take the senior hikers on my bushwhack route. (Actually, I could be talked into that but I’m not holding my breath waiting for an eager chorus of volunteers.)

There are three nice big lollipop hikes in the Olsen Creek valley, all fairly hard and 8-10 miles long.

The northernmost is the old trail up along the creek to the North Summit and the new trails back down through recent clearcuts. This is about 9 mile total, rising to 3000 feet, with views to the north and west of the Nooksack Valley and the mountains of the Lower Mainland of BC and Vancouver Island.

The center loop is the one we did last New Year’s – About 8 miles with almost no views, and a challenging ford of Olsen Creek followed by an extremely steep trail that goes up 4-500 feet in about a quarter mile.

The southern trip has the best potential view, at the point labeled “Sisters View”, and no huge difficulties. But we would have to hike along the new logging road (the blue line furthest to the east). This would be about 10 miles.

The middle option basically stinks. If it looks like we might get a decent view to the east, then I would tip toward the last option.

Bushwhacking Olsen Creek – Act II

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 12:14 pm

Scene 1

I was not satisfied with the route I’d found on my previous trip up Trail #8 in the Olsen Creek trail “system” so I headed back there on April 18th. Since I had gained a fair amount of altitude early on and lost it all later, I thought that if I started the same way but just kept pressing uphill I might come out on a higher point on the Ogallala trail, thus cutting off a bit of distance and avoiding the elevation loss. On my computer I used my mapping software to draw a trail that made a steady ascent from my starting point on Trail #8 (Point A) to a point a couple of switchbacks higher on the Ogallala than my previous destination (Point B). With the addition of a couple of broad switchbacks, the resulting path would gain about 375 feet in a little over half a mile, which sounds manageable.

Sisters View

Sisters View

The fact that I am not even honoring this third point with its own letter of the alphabet or showing you a map should give a hint to the success of this venture. I did make it to the intended point but it was not a trip that I would wish on an enemy. As hard as I “pressed into” the hill, I just couldn’t net any significant gain – by the time I got as far south as I wanted to go, I was still a hundred or more feet below the target. I had long since given up on finding a usable route but I was too stubborn to just give up, and I somehow managed to drag my butt up the slope (which was doing an excellent imitation of vertical) and onto the trail, a mere three hours later. That works out to a wicked pace of 6 hpm (not a misprint).

I forgot to mention that I had started this hike in a raging spring snow shower – the fresh snow did not assist my climb up that last fern-covered slope.

In retrospect that 375 feet gain works out to about 7-800 feet per mile, which is steeper than most logging roads (Pine & Cedar Lakes excepted) but gentler than Church Mountain, for example. But on those hikes you are walking on a tread which is mostly level (from side to side) and you are not stepping over logs and under branches. Walking along the side of a steep slope with nothing level in sight is another story altogether.

Determined to salvage something of the day, I marched on up the trail to the Sisters viewpoint to be greeted by one of the nicest cloudscapes I’d seen for at least a week and then walked back to the car on the Ogallala trail. It was very good exercise.

Trillium on Trail #8

Trillium on Trail #8

Scene 2

Unable to leave poor enough alone I decided to spend last Sunday, one of the first really nice days of the season, in the same area. My plan was to walk the path I’d taken in Act I and see if there was any way I could drag my hiking friends up there this Thursday. My recollection was that that path was more or less doable, with the possible exception of the first stream crossing. Actually it was not the stream crossing itself that concerned me, but the very steep, leaf-covered, wet slope one has to traverse to get out of the stream’s narrow notch.

So the plan was to hike back out to that point and, trying my hardest to impersonate someone sensible, assess the situation and find a gentler crossing, if needed.

Cutting right to the chase, it was needed. Looking across the stream valley I found it hard to believe that I’d ever crossed there. And looking upstream, it seemed to just get worse.

But down below me things looked better. The slope didn’t look too steep, the woods was open and I thought I could see a spot where the stream leveled out a bit and the valley widened. The only problem was that it was quite aways down there and I hated to give up that much elevation. But it looked like the only way.

Switching back and forth down to the new crossing point was not a problem and the crossing was indeed better and the slopes gentler on both sides. As I proceeded on I found what appeared to be possible remnants of an old trail, heading roughly the direction I wanted to go. Despite my certain knowledge that I had lost a good bit of altitude and my recent experience with the difficulty of regaining altitude off trail, I allowed myself to be seduced along that “trail”. To no one’s surprise, least of all my own, I once again ended up a hundred feet or more below my intended destination (Point B).

Some of you will remember the hike last year when Ward gave us an impromptu gymnastics demonstration by falling off the trail and tumbling down an impossibly steep slope – that’s roughly where I was. At the time I was surprised that Ward managed to climb straight back up the hill to the trail but now I am utterly amazed! Rather than go straight up, I traversed to a lower point and barely dragged myself onto the trail.

Once again I had blown the whole morning and found yet another unusable route. Sigh.

Scene 3

After a quick lunch I was tempted to give up and head back down the Ogallala but I couldn’t resist one last try. I now knew that I could get from Point A to the new stream crossing with no great difficulty or danger. Maybe if I hiked back up to Point B I could find decent route across and down to the stream crossing.

That worked pretty well. I headed north from Point B, descending gradually, until I was within sight of the stream. I was still quite a bit above the new crossing, but getting down to it was not hard.

So there may be a decent route, after all. Bear in mind that the complete trip would require converting one of those descents to the stream crossing into an ascent, and all that that entails, but I think it is worth one more look.

But it is certainly not ready for prime time. So this Thursday the Senior Trailblazers will not have the pleasure of this particular jaunt through the woods. We will be doing something in the Olsen Creek area, assuming that we are not slammed by another spring snow storm in the meantime.

Lake Whatcom and the San Juans

Lake Whatcom and the San Juans


As if I had not had enough entertainment for the day, I was headed back down Trail 8, about 2.5 miles from the car, when I heard a crashing in the distance and looked up to see the hind end of a black bear galloping away down the slope. It was too far away to get a good idea of its size but way too close for comfort. It had clearly heard or seen me first and did not seem at all interested in deepening our acquaintance but I had to stop and consider my options.

It was most tempting to turn around and go out a different way, but I had just come down the steepest part of the trail and a reversal would replace a 2.5 mile downhill stroll with 6 or 8 miles of hard hiking. And I was pretty tired already. And who was to say that there were no bears there.

On the other hand, I had less than a half mile to go in the woods before reaching the open logging road which wouldn’t seem to have as mush appeal for the bear as it did for me. And it had galloped away from me, but off to the right and steeply down the hill, whereas the trail veered to the left at about that point.

So after a bit I headed cautiously and as noisily as I could manage on down the trail. My heart was getting a terrific spate of exercise and every dark stump in my peripheral vision gave me a start, but I saw no more of my black friend (or worse, a smaller version of same).

On the logging road I ran into the first humans I’d seen all day – four horses, three riders and big dog enjoying the sunny day. The trailhead and some of the these trails are generously maintained by the Whatcom Chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington but I hadn’t encountered any horses here in years. But when I got back to the trailhead I could hardly find my car for all the horse trailers.

The Backcountry Horsemen

The Backcountry Horsemen

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