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.

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