Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Stafford Creek

I've been looking forward to this first hike of the spring since the last hike of the fall (December 2007). Personal circumstances, namely my daughter's ongoing difficulties, made this getaway even sweeter.

Stafford Creek is a tributary of the North Fork of the Teanaway, about 30 minutes by car from Cle Elum. I arrived at the trailhead at about 2pm, promptly buried three beers in a nearby snowbank for later retrieval and hit the trail proper at 230.

Stafford Creek at this time of year is a raging mini-river and the recent warm spring sun made the flow as strong as I had ever seen it. I was just hoping that I wouldn't have to actually cross it. The map showed that the trail pretty much stayed on the east side of the creek, but you never know with washouts, etc. As it turned out, there was one crossing, but a large downed log made for an easy bridge.

The trail is relatively low, starting at about 3300'. While there was a little snow in the shadows, the going was easy for the first two miles with just a few switchbacks resulting in an elevation gain of just 300-400 feet. Nearing 3 miles, snow started showing on the trail, several feet thick in places, and with the warm temperatures making the snow very soft, the going was a little tough. At about 4 miles, as the trail passed high above the creek, I saw a little clearing far below and worked my way down the steep hillside to investigate.

I found a fairly flat spot, hard by the creek, with just enough room for my tent. There was a nice log to lean against, plenty of firewood if I wanted to start a fire and several cozy rocks to snuggle up to. Most important, it was very private with a nice open slope across the creek where I thought I might see some marmots.

By 6pm I had the basic tent set up and was sitting down with a glass of wine, watching the water boil by. A few minutes later, I felt the first rain drop. I hurriedly put up the rain fly and 15 minutes later the skies cracked open and the rain began in earnest. I threw all my gear in the tent and got cozy, preparing to make dinner. I fired up the stove and a few minutes later was enjoying a nice beef stroganoff.

As usual, I had an impossible time sleeping, even with the full-sized pillow I had brought along. To make things worse, my trusty radio failed to pull in any stations, so I was left to fend for myself, with the nearby roar of the creek my only solace.

It rained all night, but I did manage to stay dry and by 8am the sun was out and all was well. I cooked up a little breakfast, broke camp and hit the trail, getting back to the car in just 90 minutes. My precious beers were still there, though I had misjudged the strength of the sun, which had melted out the snow, totally exposing the cans to plain view.

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