August 04, 2007

Mowich/Wilkeson Area

The weather forecasts were all over the map, so I had no idea what to expect. I wanted to believe the cloudy predictions but I was skeptical. Inspired by a photo posted at NWHikers, I headed to the Mowich Lake area of Mount Rainier to hike Spray Falls. First, I had to drive to the nearby Carbon River Ranger Station to pick up a new annual park pass. Carbon River is indeed gated at the entrance, but there were enough cars in the parking lot to force me to park on the road. It seems even walking the washed out road is enough draw people to that area.

Much to my surprise, they no longer sell the $50 pass covering all parks. Instead, it's either a pass just for Mount Rainier or a much more expensive multi-agency pass, part of which I already had with my Northwest Forest Pass. Since the drive to Carbon River had showed that the sunny forecasts were proving to be more accurate, I decided to bail on the Spray Falls hike and thus didn't need a park pass today, so I opted for neither. I decided to spend the day continuing my explorations around the park for views of the mountain.

I started north of Carbon River, hoping to climb up to near the Clearwater Wilderness boundary, but the road is closed very near the bridge from the winter floods. Next I headed up to Mowich Lake just to get a look, since I hadn't been there in a while. The parking lot was already packed, so I wasn't really disappointed in not doing the hike. Unfortunately, the mountain itself was already obscured in clouds, despite the sunny blue skies everywhere else. Once again, scouting would be difficult, but was my only option.

There's a network of Forest Service roads between the roads to Carbon River and Mowich Lake that I decided to explore. The map showed at least one road that connected the two, but the entire area is a mesh of roads and unmaintained trails that run up to the top of a nearby hill that promised potential views of Rainier. That area is also home to the Evans Creek ORV area, so I wasn't sure of the state of the roads.

I thought I took the through road to Carbon River, but that turned out to not be the case. This would become a familiar theme for the day. The road was pretty bad, but not the worst I'd driven. There were a lot of 4x4 and dirt bike trails leading off into the forest, and the farther I went the worse the road got with washouts and blowdowns. There was one place where I literally had to stop and get out to see if the CRV could handle it. I could make it across, but I wasn't sure I would make it back if I needed. As long as this really was a through road, and this was the worst of it, I would be fine. Turns out, it wasn't. I wasn't on the through road, I was on a side spur -- one that eventually ended -- and I had to turn around and backtrack all the way to Mowich Lake Road. Fortunately, I made it back across the washout, but it was a close call and I scraped the undercarriage hard enough to get out and inspect it.

Cascade on Evans Creek

The one saving grace was Evans Creek itself. About a half mile in, the spur road I'd mistakenly taken crosses the creek and I swear it looks like Utah. The rock is red sandstone, and the creek has cut channels into it, revealing amazing patterns and colored striations. It looked like something out of Zion National Park. I spent at least an hour shooting there, but much of that time was waiting for the sun to disappear behind the fast moving clouds. One cascade upstream in particular caught my attention, and I spent most of my time there searching for the best composition. Even with the periodic cloud cover, it was too bright to shoot downstream -- I just couldn't close the aperture enough to allow the slow shutter speeds I needed -- so I took snapshots to document the area for future outings. It was an amazing place, and surprisingly isolated considering the proximity of the ORV area. I love finding little treasures like that.

Evans Creek Channel Cascade and Striated Rock on Evans Creek

Next I headed to Wilkeson to explore the FS-7710 area northwest of the park, or so I thought. There are few creeks or views to use as landmarks in that area, so I was forced to use junctions and turns in the road to try to find my location on the map. The problem was, nothing seemed to fit, and I was getting the distinct feeling I was lost. It wasn't until I saw a small worn sign pointing to "G*LE CREEK" that I realized I was in a completely different road system! I had take a wrong turn way back in Wilkeson and was one road west of where I'd intended. In fact, I'd run completely off my map!


So I headed back down and over to the next road system and continued my explorations. Most of the area is clearcut, but none of the roads went high enough to see over the ridge line into the park. It looked like some of the roads used to, but they had deteriorated enough they were impassable to all but 4x4 vehicles. I stopped along one to enjoy the solitude and spent some time photographing the wildflowers along the side of the road. I believe they were foxglove. I did explore far enough to see that the roads to the western side of the Clearwater Wilderness are open, despite the gates marked on the map.

With the sun lower in the sky, I hoped I would be able to return to Evans Creek and be able to shoot the photos I'd missed, but upon arrival I wasn't so sure. It was still plenty bright in the area, and Rainier was still in hiding, so sunset photos were out. The headache I'd been tolerating all day turned from annoyance to troublesome, so I decided to call it a day. Evans Creek was a good enough discovery for the day, but I would have to return.

1 comment:

image coloring said...

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