Southern Washington Weekend Getaway Travelog 3Carson, WA. Sat 22 Mar 2017, 7pm.
We've spent much of the day tooling around remote areas of Southern Washington in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Primarily we sought out waterfalls from our Very Dull Guidebook
. We also enjoyed driving in the mountains and basically took things as they came today.
Google Map of Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Washington
This morning after breakfast we finally crossed into Washington for the first time in this "Southern Washington" trip. We passed quickly through Vancouver, WA, and exited the interstate highway to wend our way north. Suburbs gave way to sparse farms before we reach the tiny town of Yacolt. How tiny? It's basically a general store, a bank, and a school. Oh, and two
coffee stands. Welcome to Washington! We were in Yacolt to see a waterfall, though, not drink the coffee, so after we visited we continued onward.
Next up we stopped in the tiny town of Chelatchie a bit further north. Again, it was a general store, a bank, and a school. But this general store looked bigger
. We were ready for a bathroom stop and wanted to check road conditions ahead (cell service was very spotty even in this town) so we went inside.
True to form this general was, basically, everything
. A gas station. A convenience store. A grocery store. Some goods on consignment. And a deli cafe with several tables. It seemed like a good time to stop for a light lunch so we did that while we were there.Improvising As We Go
Back on the road we continued heading north/northeast, entering the southern part of the Mt. St. Helens area. The visitor center for the volcano view is on the opposite site so we didn't see that, but we spotted signs for "Ape Cave" which seemed interesting, so we gave that a shot.
Approaching the trailhead for the Ape Cave we crossed above the snow line. It was like, one minute, no snow. Next minute, patches of snow in well shaded areas. Minute after that, drifts and banks covering half the ground. And despite this the trailhead was crowded
. While the presence of crowds generally indicates a trail is good, the snowy conditions, distance, and prospect of scrambling around in the cave seemed like more than Hawk wanted to tackle given her back, so we headed down back below the snow line and continued our drive.
The Ape Cave was not the only place we stopped on a whim. Throughout the day we passed numerous unnamed waterfalls along the side of the road. The Cascade Mountains in the middle of spring snow melt, and water is flowing everywhere. When we'd stop at one waterfall that looked pretty, usually we could turn around 180° and see another one miles away on the opposite side of the valley.Getting Remote
Soon we veered off the better traveled routes through Gifford Pinchot and probed into really remote areas in search of a few waterfalls along Lewis Creek. Signs along this narrow but paved road warned that it might be blocked by snow ahead. We saw very little snow in the area but plenty of evidence of winter only barely over: branches and brush covered the road. In many places only a single lane swerved around a fallen tree or rock. Dodging these obstacles looked risky at first but we soon grew accustomed to it, and the road was never 100% blocked.
Steering around trees fallen across the road wasn't the only challenge. Searching for waterfalls here meant literally searching
, as the directions in the Very Dull Guidebook were hard to align to conditions on the ground. Partly that's because the author is a university professor who apparently thought he was writing a hydrology diary rather than a hikers' guidebook, and partly it's because all the information is at least 10 years old and conditions change.
For one of the hikes we had to drive back and forth three times and try one false start before finding the right trailhead. In the years since that entry in the book was last proofed, storms have damaged part of the trail and the Forest Service has chosen to remove the signs and close off the small parking area instead of repairing it.Over the Mountain and to the River
After visiting several waterfalls it was getting late in the afternoon so we planned a route out of the woods and toward Hood River, OR, our stop for the night. Ironically the rain that had been pouring on us all day
let up at this point. But rather than be frustrated by that we chose to simply enjoy the better light as we crossed through some high country at the headwaters of the Wind River. Here we were well above the snowline, with drifts 3 to 4 feet deep on both sides of the road. The road was in great shape, fortunately, and with air temperatures about 41F (5C) we weren't worried about fresh snow or ice.
By the way, Gifford Pinchot, for whom the forest is named, was the first head of the US Forest Service. (Gifford Pinchot Wikipedia page
) He introduced, for better or worse, the form of public-private partnership of national forests that lasts to this day. The government owns and manages the land, and grants logging rights to private companies.