May 3, 2011

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



  1. What happened to my comment?

    Comment by DJan — May 3, 2011 @ 4:22 pm

  2. Glad to hear that your furry black friend wasn’t interested in getting to know (taste?) you better! I lost a good long comment laboriously typed out on my new ipad. Dan!

    Comment by DJan — May 3, 2011 @ 4:24 pm

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