Sunday, July 27, 2008
Boot Buster Ridge--Best Hike Ever!
Saturday, July 26. I had been watching the penultimate stage of the Tour de France at my sister's house and didn't arrive in Cle Elum until nearly 11am. By the time I got packed up and drove the 40 minutes to the North Fork of the Teanaway, it was a little after noon. The trailhead parking lot, just west of the Beverly Creek campground, had 8 or 9 vehicles as the Koppen Mountain hike had just been featured in the Seattle PI as Karen Sykes' hike of the week. I figured most of the people I might meet on the trail would be on there way back down by now and once I got to the top, I'd have the whole ridge to myself.
The trail starts out flat enough and was cool and shady as it paralleled a small creek surrounded by tall trees. Some very early blueberries were out, indicating how warm the early summer has been. And Karen was right about the abundance of flowers on this trail--at all elevations they were absolutely astounding, both in quantity and variety. Indeed, I don't recall any hike east of the Cascades where flowering plants and shrubs were so prevalent. After a couple miles and a couple easy crossings of the creek, the trail starts up, at first in easy traverses still shaded by trees, later becoming steeper switchbacks, more open, dusty and hot. As the trail tops out views to the north and east become expansive and feature the Stuart Range and the dry, rolling hills towards Ellensburg and the Columbia River.
After all the hiking I had done in this region, I was thrilled to be on the west end of this particular ridge. The ridge itself runs 6 or 7 miles in a semi-circular configuration and my plan was to follow the ridgeline itself roughly to its eastern terminus, where I had been before, and then to take a different trail back to the car, making about a 12 or 13 mile loop. The first few miles on top were an absolute delight, as I followed a rough trail which had sidetrails to the various mini-peaks in the area, many of them in the 5500' range, all with fantastic views in every direction, including to the south where Mt Rainier would have been visible, but for the high clouds that had begun to roll in.
It was an ideal ramble with nice warm weather, plenty of wildflowers and views and no other hikers, giving me a wonderful sense of solitude and isolation and great photo opportunities. I had gone a few miles along an ever diminishing climbers' trail and started to get concerned that I hadn't run into the main trail that would lead me to the junction for the loop trail back to the car. I suddenly realized that it was very late in the day, nearly 4pm and I was getting a little concerned about the time. Here I was in the middle of nowhere and if I had to backtrack it would be nearly 11 miles back to the car. I used my best instincts to head in what I thought was the right direction, but was really starting to second-guess myself, thinking that somehow I missed the cutoff trail. I was also running short of water and food. I was getting a little paranoid--funny how your mind plays tricks on you.
I started walking faster and vowed I'd go just another half hour and if I didn't run into familiar ground I would turn back. Just as I reached that limit I sensed the trail was starting to look a little more used and then I saw signs of recent trail maintenance and finally was confident that I was on a main trail, though I wasn't positive which one it was.
Sure enough, half hour later I came to the sought after junction with the Jungle Creek trail, where I had been many times before. I was now in a very good mental state, knowing where I was and that I would be back to the car well before dark. And to top things off, just as I was finishing my last PowerBar, I heard a rustling noise behind and as I turned, expecting to see a mule deer, I caught a glimpse of a fairly good-sized bear, in full retreat mode, running into the gulley just south of me. What a thrill! Hadn't seen a bear while hiking for nearly 20 years.
The four miles back to the car were mostly steep switchback amidst long, late afternoon shadows. I got back to the car at about 645pm, having been on the move for over 6 hours with very few breaks. Highlights of the trip were how strong I felt after such a long hike and so much elevation gain (over 3500'), the solitude, the anxious thrill of being way off-trail, and of course, spotting the bear. Downsides were the inaccuracy of my GPS, blisters on my big toes, not quite enough water and the breaking down of my precious Vasque boots on top of the ridge, giving this post its title.