Adventure Log: Not According to Plan

May 30, 2021

“Planned adventure,” one might argue, is an oxymoron. And one wouldn’t be completely wrong. I did have a plan this morning, though, albeit with somewhat sketchy details. I was heading to Covel and Angel Falls in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. The WTA (Washington Trails Association) instructions were straight forward. Ending with “Park at the Cispus Learning Center, trailhead is across the road.” I knew where the CLC was, so no problem. The trip reports, though, were confusing. And I don’t head anywhere without reading WTA trip reports.

“Half mile in, signs say bridges are out and to try the Burley Mountain trailhead.” “Based on other reports, I went to the Burley Mountain trailhead.” “Did the loop clockwise, so glad I did. Steep the other way.” “Sign says trail is closed, go anyway.” What the hell? So much for having a clear plan.

Also I never, ever go hiking on the weekend. And this a holiday to boot. But last week it rained. Next week I’ll be away. I figure I get there before anyone else does anyway, so when the forecast changes from cloudy to sunny, I make a decision: I’m going.

The other bad thing about traveling on Sunday is the coffee kiosk doesn’t open until 6. I prepared coffee last night and set the pot to come on at 4:15. I get up at 4:30, only remembering when I get in the car just before 5 that I meant to leave at 4:30, not get up then. I will miss the full gamut sunrise over the prairie. I catch the pink through town and on I-5 above ground fog with Mt. St. Helens on the horizon; at Jackson Prairie it has turned golden, rising beside Rainier.

Rainier shows herself again over the valley above Morton, and I pull off the road there, as I always do, unable to resist a photo.

No one is trying to reach me at 5:45, and there’s no one who will want a message from me at that hour letting them know I’m leaving cell service, so I whiz past Morton toward Randle where I turn east toward my old friend, the Gifford Pinchot.

I arrive at CLC at 6:30, note the trailhead sign, but keep going in search of the Burley Mt. TH. It’s just then, with forehead-smacking awareness, I realize . . . my knapsack is on the kitchen table. Gah!

I always leave it there waiting to add the water bladder from the refrigerator if it’s a warm day, and my lunch. It’s not a warm day, or not hot anyway, so I put the bladder in the pack last night. This morning I put my lunch in an insulated bag and walked right out the door without the pack.

I have my lunch, camera, boots, poles, jacket, and a small water bottle—though nothing to carry it in—but not my bear whistle and related items, first aid kit, toilet paper. What the hell?

Also, I don’t find the Burley Mt. trailhead. I do find the road to Burley Mt. Lookout. (At least I assume it goes to the lookout.) I know from trip reports it was still snowed in a couple weeks ago, but since I’m here—and apparently not wherever the trail is—I decide to see how far I can get.

A trip report (I love the WTA, they will get my $10 monthly donation for the rest of my life) said the road was scaaaarrrry. If you meet a car, you can’t pass, and there’s a cliff on one side. I do not like scary roads. I do not like to back up on scary roads. I also know people exaggerate. Also, it’s not even 7am and I’ve seen almost no cars except on I-5.

There are a couple short sketchy spots at which I would rather not meet a car, and the road is—for a ways at least—littered with winter storm debris that could use a stiff blow job. But downed trees have been cleared, there are many turn outs, half of it is paved and when it changes to gravel it’s wide, and there are few pot holes. Pfft. Nothing to it.

There are also water features.

I get about halfway to the sixteen mile destination and . . .

I turn the car around—I’m not crossing it, I’m a chicken shit in snow—but then I walk up to check it out. Turns out the snow is only in the curve. I hear rushing water and assume there is a culvert/bridge affair under the snow, explaining the failure to melt. I wonder about trying it for a full nano-second. It’s solid ice with eight inch ruts. Once in the ruts, there would be no changing my mind, no changing tracks. And they are really close to the edge in the curve. I’ll save it for another day.

I return to the road and detour to the left into a surprisingly large compound of both nice and broken down homes, the Tower Rock U-Fish RV campground, gas station, and market. Driving back toward the learning center, I get a good view of Tower Rock himself.

I return to the learning center, which is Covid-closed, and park in front of the chain across the driveway. I’ll go a little way up the trail. There’s only the one sign at the trailhead, no map. In the short distance I walk, the trail forks three times; no signs. Is one of these where the one trip reporter chose clockwise? Which is the “loop”? No clue. (I do discover later the roped fork goes back to the road a few yards from where I’m parked and is a trail for the blind.) There is a bridge, pretty new, and a sign on the other side that says the trail is closed for work. But it’s not blocking the trail. Is this where the other report said go anyway? But wasn’t that on the MIA Burley Mt. trail? I’m so confused.

Covel Creek

It’s pretty and I want to find the falls, but I feel naked without my pack, and I hadn’t put boots on or brought my water bottle (or my camera—only my phone), so I turn back. It’s not going anywhere, I’ll come again.

On down the road a piece, I see a sign for Mosquito Meadows. Half the name is nice anyway, and I turn in. I figure I will go until I hit snow, or mosquitoes. Or the road gets sketchy. Again, the road is fine.

The day is not without waterfalls. And wildflowers, including the first paintbrush and Sitka valerian of my season!

I get within two miles of my destination and . . .

I have three places to explore now, when the snow melts: the aborted falls hike, the mountain, the meadow. I do love the Gifford Pinchot, and this day to explore the nooks and crannies is a gift rather than a disappointment.

I pull off the road on the return when I see a falls through the trees hadn’t noticed going up. I love how you see differently on the return of out and back trails and roads. There is a trail along the creek toward it and I head up. It has some sketchy spots that are almost out of my comfort zone. (Maybe I should name this post “Sketchy Adventure.”) I manage them, slowly, carefully.

Sketchy trail
More sketchy trail (this one is steeper than it looks)

But at the end, I still can’t get a clear view of the roaring falls.

I sit down in the steep sketchy bit pictured above and slide down it on my butt, right past the lady slippers I completely missed on the way up.

How cool is that lacy disintegrating leaf?

Back on Forest Road 28, I brake when I see a sign to “Yellow Jacket Pond.” (What’s up with the noxious pests names?) I back up and turn in. The road is gated, but says foot traffic is allowed. I walk down the road into what looks like an abandoned campground with two boarded up toilets. It is clearly a logging operation now, though it doesn’t have an active vibe. There no sign of a pond, or any signs at all. I do think I hear buzzing, but maybe that is tinnitus not wasps. I follow an overgrown path until it’s blocked by blowdown, then backtrack and walk down what might have once been a logging road, but now is not.

I hear and sense a river, and go in pursuit. Yep! Sweet. And my first mountain lupine sighting!

The Cispus River

Okay, I’m done. Time to head home. Oh, but there’s Layser Caves. I saw it on the way in and thought I’d check it out on the return. It’s only a mile and a half, no snow on this one. I drive up yet another forest road. But, here, finally, are the people. The parking area is full of pickups, jeeps, men in camo, dogs, kids. Nope. I’ll hit this one early next time. Also, I need to check in with the WTA and see what it is!

I’m home at 1:30 with a full tank of gas and a clean Rogue for my drive to Seattle early Tuesday and to set sail (to Whidbey Island) on Thursday. Maybe I should name this post “A True Adventure.” I had so much fun!

5 thoughts on “Adventure Log: Not According to Plan

  1. Ahhh, I knew it was coming… 

    You are the intrepid one, methinks. Here’s my favorite part of all of your (mis)adventures: you encounter an obstacle and you just freakin’ figure it out. One foot in front of the other. I’m glad you are always cautious in your choices but I just love, love, love how you let your curiosity guide you. Brava. Sounds like a very Gretchen Day ♡

    Liked by 1 person

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