Cascade Pass to Stehekin

This summer I returned to Cascade Pass and a backpack to Stehekin, retracing the hike I described in Hiking Washington’s History.   My companions were my daughter–Anne Bentley–a hiking friend Marlee Richard–and her daughter Carrie Richard.  When I hiked this route in the 1990s a shuttle picked up three miles east of Cottonwood Camp, cutting out nine miles of hiking, but the meandering force of the Stehekin River has washed out parts of the old road the trail follows.  We needed to parse our 21 miles into three manageable parts.

Like every backcountry hiker, we had to take our chances at getting camping permits, leaving Seattle as early in the morning as we could stand it to drive to the North Cascades Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount.  It opens at 7 a.m. in the summers and issues permits first-come, first-served for the next night.  We were lucky enough to get into Pelton Basin Camp, which is just over the pass.  The night before the hike began, we camped at the trailhead, plenty of spaces available at Johannesburg Camp, and threw ropes over slim branches to cache our food from bears.

Stehekin RIver ValleyI’ve hiked to Cascade Pass three times now, and only the first time was the weather clear enough to take in the spectacular views.  This time it was rainy and cool, so we didn’t linger.  By early afternoon, we were standing under cedar trees at Pelton Basin to keep dry, then playing hearts in one tent, and hoping for the skies to clear.Pelton Basin

Gradually, they did, the next day, teasing us with appearing and disappearing views of the mountains and the creeks cascading down to form the Stehekin River.  This was the long middle day hike to Bridge Creek.

We lunched at Doubtful Creek, and my companions hiked up to Horseshoe Basin while I tended the packs.  After a foreshadowing of scat, we did see a bear heading up a hillside of huckleberries, causing only a brief pause in our travel.  We rested on the benches of the aged picnic table at Cottonwood Camp, then plodded on to Bridge Creek, where we had the luxury of sheltering cedar trees, a babbling creek, and two picnic tables, enough to dry out the tents and pack covers.

The next day we chose the Pacific Crest Trail route to High Bridge where hikers converge to greet the shuttle.  After a half-day hike, we rode to our reward–a night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch and the comforts of showers, flush toilets, and full-course dinners.  The fourth day’s ride to the Stehekin Landing took us to the bakery, organic farm, Rainbow Falls, and a history stop at the old schoolhouse, followed by a sunny, sleepy boat ride down Lake.  The Stehekin Valley is magical, no matter the weather.

Duwamish River

Duwamish River

North Wind's Fish WeirDuwamish Waterway

Hiking Washington’s History featured two urban hikes–on the Spokane Centennial Trail and on the Duwamish River–both of them essentially bike trails that are also good for walking.  Here’s the blog post I wrote for the University of Washington Press about the hike along the Duwamish, the only river that flows through Seattle, a much altered river still rich in history.

Ebey’s Landing and Prairie

Ebey's Landing Like Cascade Pass, Ebey’s Landing was one of the first hikes recommended to me when we moved to Seattle in the 1980s.  Since then, I have been to Whidbey Island many times–hiking, biking, and writing at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers. The landscape of prairies and bluffs above Ebey’s Landing on Admiralty Inlet has not changed, thanks to the creation of a National Historical Reserve,

But since I wrote Hiking Washington’s History, the trail has changed.  The map in the book shows two legs of a walk from Perego’s Bluff to Sunnyside Cemetery.  The westernmost leg is now the main route.  It goes past a blockhouse and the carefully reconstructed house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey who named the place Sunnyside. The Ebeys were the parents of Isaac Ebey who made the first land claim here in 1850 on  what he described as “almost a paradise of nature.”

The house opens for Summer 2016 on May 28th and will be open Thursdays-Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a good destination for a hike.Ebey Blockhouse

Ebey House

Lime Kiln Trail

As I was finishing Hiking Washington’s History, I learned about the Lime Kiln Trail, a relatively new trail that follows portions of the old Everett and Monte Cristo Railway grade. The Old Robe Canyon hike in the book follows the South Fork Stillaguamish River on the north bank as the river flows west.  The Lime Kiln Trail starts south of the river and joins it after a mile and a half, going east along the south bank of the river to the concrete remains of a bridge that once crossed the river.   Engineers warned early on that the force of the river would wash out man-made structures.

Yes, there is a lime kiln on this trail–quite impressive on site.

Lime kiln on the Lime Kiln Trail
Lime kiln

During the 1800s, the kiln converted limestone into lime (calcium oxide) to make mortar and plaster for construction, including parts of the Everett & Monte Cristo Railway. Limestone from a nearby quarry was carried to the top of the kiln by small cable cars and burned in the kiln to change the rock to powder. Interpretive panels at the trailhead give the history of the railway and the lime kiln.  Artifacts along the way (pieces of rotary saw blades, bricks, a bucket) tell a visual story.

This is a 3.5 mile trail, one-way, fairly level (600 some feet of elevation gain, gained in several places) and hikable year-round. (In mid-May 2016 the salmonberries were already ripe.)  The first part follows a logging road through regrowing clear cuts but then reaches the old railroad grade and canyon.

Directions: Take State Route 92 east to Granite Falls. In town, turn right on South Granite Avenue. In three blocks, go left on Pioneer Street, which becomes Menzel Lake Road. In a few miles, go left on Waite Mill Road to the signed trailhead on the left.



Elwha River

Elwha River

Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition
Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition

When the Press Expedition men hauled their gear up the Elwha River in the winter of 1889 and 1890, the river was wild.  When I hiked it and wrote about it more than 100 years later, the river was dammed and contained, the Altaire campground was good for a pre-hike wiener roast, and the Whiskey Bend trailhead was an easy drive.  No more.  The river has been un-dammed and unleashed to choose its own path, which has included flooding the road to the trailhead and the Altaire campground.  You may now have more sympathy for the six men, four dogs, and two mules who spent two and a half months just getting to Whiskey Bend from Port Angeles.  (This hike is described in Hiking Washington’s History.) 

Linda Mapes describes “A river gone wild” and its effects on hikers in The Seattle Times, March 13, 2016.

Yakima Pass

HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016
HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016

Yakima Pass has become one of my favorite historical hikes.  The first part is delightful–to Cottonwood Lake and Mirror Lake and then south on the Pacific Crest Trail to Yakima Pass.  It is rich in Native American and railroad exploration history, narrated by George McClellan’s journals.

In late July, on a sunny day, you’ll find bear grass, columbine, glacier lily, trillium, lupine, blue skies, and sparkling lakes. Frogs claim rocks in the creek that cascades down from Mirror Lake. Mirror LakeEven as trees grow again in the clearcut areas, the lay of the land and the pass visible from the lakes remain the same.  You’ll know you’ve reached the pass by the feel of the land and the weathered sign that marks it.

If you don’t want to climb back up to Mirror Lake, on the PCT, there is a short-cut back to Road 5480 (and your parked car) on two gullied old logging roads, which are easy enough to follow, but be forewarned that the footing can be tricky–rocky, slippery and overgrown.  When I first used this loop I could catch a glimpse of my car from this route, but now vegetation has grown obscuring that view–but not the lovely view of Lost Lake.

Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.
Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.

The hike has not changed greatly since I recounted it in Hiking Washington’s History, but here are a few clarifications: when driving to the trailhead, at the unmarked four-way intersection, veer right along the north side of Lost Lake (don’t take the sharp right). The last half-mile up to the trailhead is completely un-drivable, and parking spots on Road 5480 can be competitive on the weekend.  Although a sign points uphill to the Mirror Lake trailhead, the beginning of the trail itself is not marked by a sign but by a cairn or row of rocks, thoughtfully placed.YP sign


Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass
Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass

Coal Mines Trail


IMG_2648My Tuesday Trekkers group hiked the Coal Mines Trail in June 2014.  Since I wrote Hiking Washington’s History, the trail has become much more shaded by the growth of trees and brush on both sides.  Mining sites are harder to identify in the first two-thirds of the trail, but heaping  slag piles still rise above mine sites and Crystal Creek flows coolly along the walk.  Roslyn’s coal mining history is not forgotten by residents but seems less prominent.  The Northwest Improvement Company store building will reopen soon with new businesses.  The spire of the Catholic church soars above the town on the hillside, and the Roslyn cemeteries grow, including a memorial for Tom Cravens, native son who died fighting the Thirty-Mile Fire.



Columbia Hills Homesteads


As spring approaches, hikes in the Columbia Hills are some of my favorites. Spring and fall are the best times for these hikes as summer temperatures can be extreme, and the hills are exposed to the winds in the winter.

In October 2012 I led a Friends of the Gorge-sponsored hike to the Columbia Hills Homesteads. We hiked down Eight-mile Creek on the east side to see the Lucas homesteads and then came back to the Crawford homestead on Dalles Mountain Road. We saw deer, four wild turkeys, two apples trees in fruit, and a Concord grape vine, planted by the Lucases, still producing sweet grapes. The newer discoveries to me were the Henry and William Brune homesteads and timber cultures. These claims are largely west of the road to Stacker Butte. With help from local historian and hike leader Jim Denton, and with some hiking partners willing to ramble, we found the Skibbe gravesite, root cellar foundations, water troughs, the restored Brune cabin, and stone alignments.

Trails are planned for this undeveloped state park, but for now it’s a great place to ramble and find history. An interpretive panel has been installed at the Crawford complex. A Discover Pass is required for parking.

On a May 2013 hike for Friends of the Gorge, our group discovered the yellow rose bush planted by Mary Lucas in front of her homestead in the 1890’s. This Harrison’s Yellow was likely brought as a cutting from the east and has continued to grow wild here, surviving long past the house John Crawford built for his bride.



Duwamish RIver Trail

Carrosino 1In late August 2015 I was biking along the Duwamish/Green River Trail and noticed earth-pushers at work across the river where the Carosino farmhouse used to be.  The Carosinos were among the Italian truck farmers who first settled along the Duwamish in the late 1800s and eventually raised corn, pumpkins, radishes, and other vegetables to sell at the Pike Place Market.  The farmhouse had stood along the path of Sound Transit light rail but survived that construction.  Where had it gone?

My query to the city of Tukwila, which had bought the property, brought the somewhat reassuring response that the site is being developed as an off-channel salmon habitat project called Duwamish Gardens.  At this point in their journey down the Duwamish, fish are transitioning from fresh water to salt water.  This channel will give them a place to feed and rest, not a bad use for a former vegetable farm.

The Dry Side and the Wet Side

The Dry Side and the Wet Side

I’m sitting here looking over Puget Sound on a rainy day, with mist covering the water and the gentle sound of water running through the gutters.  The gloriously sunny weeks of July and most of August are ending. The days are somewhat cooler but muggy; the sun rises later, encouraging a bit more sleep.

As I listen to the rain, I am emailing Michael McKenzie, author of an article on the Old Military Road that was built in 1856 through dry central Washington.  The Cascade Mountains divide the state into a dry side on the east and a wet side on the west.  Anyone who lives on the wet side understands the occasional lure of the dry, sunny side.  According to McKenzie, Frederick Dent fashioned the road from the U.S. military fort at the Dalles to Fort Simcoe, now on the Yakama reservation (“Lessons From an Old Road,” Columbia, Fall 2002).  McKenzie emphasizes that Dent paralleled an Indian trail in many places and routed the road with great sensitivity to the location of springs.

In researching Hiking Washington’s History, I learned early on to pay attention to water and to schedule eastern Washington hikes in the spring or fall.  In Columbia Hills along the dry reaches of the Columbia River, I climbed to Stacker Butter early in the morning to avoid mid-day heat that can reach 100’.  On other hot days, I kept close to the sound of water and the only shade, along Eight-Mile Creek.  The deer sought that, too.

On the Columbia Plateau Trail in eastern central Washington, I was often the only person walking the old railroad grades, exposed to the open sky.  The locals know better. I remember, too, hiking in the Blue Mountains of southeastern Washington along open plateaus and welcoming the colorfully-named springs along the way, a great place to dip a bandana.

At the opposite extreme, I have been thoroughly wet hiking several times:  coming down from Mt. Katahdin in Maine, crossing Panhandle Gap on the Wonderland Trail in Mt. Rainier National Park, an overnight at Hannegan Pass, and a morning hike in Bridle Trails park in the suburb of Kirkland, Washington.  In Maine, we hiked four miles in an hour to find a shelter to wait out the worst of the downpour.  On the Wonderland Trail and at Hannegan Pass, we hurried to set up tents and shelter for the night.  In Kirkland, we climbed into a car and headed for a mall to buy dry pants. The right clothes and equipment and the conveniences of modern hiking have so far protected from a too casual reading of the weather and terrain.