Monday, May 28, 2012

Taylor River Backpacking

Last weekend, Kid 3 and I went backpacking up the the Taylor River, near the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. It was a great weekend and we saw great sights and had a good time together. I'm glad that he's interested in it and I can foster a love for the outdoors.

Smiling backpacker

Plus, backpacking is a good fitness activity. He carried a 20 pound pack, mine was 38 pounds and we walked 17.3 miles!  It was an excellent activity because he's trying to make a weight cut off for tackle football (we don't want him squashed by middle schoolers).

Trip planning was kind of tough - I really wanted to go to an alpine lake and I was familiar with some places in Snoqualmie Pass, but all these were above 3000' and there was still snow there. I wanted this trip to be a good experience for Kid3, so I wanted to not camp in the snow. I called the Forest Service and they recommended the Middle Forks area.

Surprisingly, I did not have a map of this area, it was the one local map sheet I didn't have. The area is covered in lakes and the elevation was below the snow level and its less than 30 miles from my home!  Call your Forest Rangers, they really know the area and can give all kinds of suggestions.  Aside from actually going on this trip, calling the Ranger was the best thing I did.

Saturday morning, we left the house at 8:30 on the way to the trail head.  Though it was close, the last 12 miles were on one of the worst roads I'd been on in a long time. The pot holes were easily 4 to 6 inches deep and required threading your way through them. I spent a lot of time driving on the wrong side of the road, but that was where the road was the best! And to further complicate matters, I was driving my MINI, which isn't known for its ground clearance.  But, I never bottomed out once. Nor did I ever get out of first gear, either.

Kid3 and I shouldered our pack almost at the trail head as the signs were a little misleading.  The road is closed at the trail head, but the signs announcing it make is seem like its right where the signs are.  It was only an extra quarter mile, so it wasn't a big deal.

We started crossing the Taylor River bridge and the gentle uphill, so slight we barely noticed it, hike into the woods.  We took our time and I showed Kid3 how to read the map and terrain associate using the river. We missed the trail to Marten Lake, but we were headed to Lipsy Lake and Otter Falls, thinking we'd make camp there.

We ran into a few other day hikers and they were seemed excited that we were going to do a father-son overnight.  In fact, we ran into one of my co-workers, his wife and dogs and we hiked with them for a while.  Some other hikers took our picture at Marten Creek Bridge (which was good, because I'm terrible at taking self photos, but I did have my mini tripod).

Parker and me at Marten Creek

We hiked on to Lipsy Lake and did find the cut off at about 3.5 miles. There is a hard to find sign (did not see this), but we could hear the falls and someone had marked the area with some mylar balloons.  Its a short, uphill (about 400') cross country movement, but you can't get lost.  Just go uphill towards the sound of the water.   As I walked up, I started to see what I thought was the normal gray Washington sky. I could hear lots of rushing water, but I had no idea where it was and knew that I wasn't that much higher above the lake.  As the trees thinned and opened up above the lake, the gray I was seeing was a gigantic exposed granite slope with the water flowing down it. It was just beautiful.

Otter Falls II

Can you imagine otters sliding down this? Its like a giant slip and slide.  Look closely on the left, there is a group of 3 or 4 people, so you can get an idea of the scale.  It's easy to get to, so we decided that we'd have to return here with the rest of our family. Maybe they wouldn't stay overnight, but we had to share this with them.

We were thinking we'd make camp at Lipsy Lake, but decided to push on a little further, to check out Big Creek Falls.  The forest on the far side of Lipsy Lake is pretty dense and the terrain is pretty steep, so there weren't many good places for a tent. Plus, the lake was crowded! This weekend was a beautiful one and so there were lots of day hikers and dogs swimming in the lake. Sure I had a water filter, but I didn't want to test it on the stirred up silt of the lake.

We started on the 2 miles to Big Creek Falls and I was starting to scope out camping spots.  The Taylor River starts to pull away from the trail and the area between is a little flatter, so I was able to find a few spots that we could camp at.  I saw one and decided that it was the spot and unbeknownst to me, Kid3 made a mark in the trail so that we could find it again. It turned out to be useful and was a good landmark even on our return trip.

Big Creek Falls

Big Creek Falls is less of a water fall than Otter Falls, and more of fast water crashing over rocks under neath a cement bridge, wide enough for large trucks. It was a strange place to find this type of a bridge, 5   miles in.  Evidently its left overs from a previous day, when there were ambitious plans to develop the area.

We set up our tent with a nice view of the creek right out the door, refilled our water and enjoyed a nice snack of cheese and crackers.  After picking our way across the creek, we tried to get down to the Taylor River itself. It turns out, our exploration found ourselves in a network of streams and some rather dense foliage, so it wasn't as simple as "keep Big Creek on our right side" to get back and find camp. We explored and climbed over fallen trees and under thorny branches, but never made it to the river.  We were exploring a little light, so we turned back.

We played a few games of chess, both of which I lost and then got started on dinner.  Dinner was dehydrated chicken pasta alfredo and green beans, both of which were surprisingly good.  I think that food tastes better in the out doors.


Kid3 was getting excited about getting into the tent, so before we did that, we hung our food and other good smelling things in a bear bag.  Usually, hanging a bear bag is an activity that will 1) kill some time, 2) provide some entertainment and 3) if you're cold, warm you up.  Football is paying off, Kid3 threw the cord and carabiner over the branch in just 3 tries. It was quick and easy. And in fact, instead of lowering the bear bag to put our toothbrushes in it later than night, we just pulled it down and he threw it back up there.


We got settled in the tent, a little early, so we played some more chess and planned out our next day.  We had missed the trail to Marten Lake and we thought that we might try to find that on the way out, so I plotted its location in my GPS.  We also thought about going to Lake Snoqualmie and Kid3 came up with a plan that we'd get up at 2 AM and start on the trail. Early to bed, early to rise!

In the tent

The sun was quickly setting, but it was still light outside and he asked me, "is the tent bright because its white or that there is still sunlight outside."  A few hours later, when one of our rolling around woke us up, it was totally dark in the tent, "I can't even see with my eyes open." It was a new moon that night, so there was no illumination other than the stars.

I took advantage of this trip to teach Kid3 LNT principles (he carried out his own bio-waste), some map reading and terrain association, how to cross streams safely, among other things.  We both went to the "bathroom" before we went to sleep and refilled our water bottles so we'd have fresh water in the morning.  We kept our flashlight and headlamp in the little pockets of the tent and made sure that our sleeping bags weren't brushing the wall of the tent, to avoid getting wet from condensation.

But with all my expertise, I was the one who had to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom again (I guess I was keeping well hydrated).  Even with my headlamp, the fact that I wasn't wearing my contacts made it rather hard to see.  But I made it to our designated spot and back to the tent, with out tripping or getting too cold.  I did wake Kid3 up to let him know I was going out, but he didn't wake up when I came back in!

We woke up the next morning, at about 6:30 because of the sunlight.  We made our breakfast skillet and started to pack up. By 8:15, we were on the trail, loaded packs and a spring in our step. Because we got an early start, we decided that we'd try for Lake Snoqualmie.

The junction to Lake Snoqualmie

I knew that we'd have to add about 1800' in elevation in about 2 miles; a little steep (and much steeper than we'd done the previous day). I knew that we'd have to turn around by noon to ensure we got back home in time to make sure my wife didn't worrry about us.  As we went up and up, we came across a pretty large, fast moving stream. This stream wasn't on the map (the latest revision is 10 years old), nor were the switch backs that went up to avoid the stream.  Our movement started to slow, because of the elevation gain and the increased number of blowdowns across the trail.

We were still keeping a good pace, considering the trail conditions and our load, but it became apparent that we wouldn't make it to Lake Snoqualmie.  In a lightly sprinkling rain, we turned around and headed back down the trail, after going almost 2 miles up the trail.  We talked about how we could get to Lake Snoqualmie in a three day trip (or as I learned later, its a shorter approach from the Skykomish side).

Buffalo Chicken Wraps for lunch

We did stop for buffalo chicken wraps for lunch, to change into dry socks, but on the way out, we covered 11 miles! I was impressed by Kid3's endurance and we talked about what we could do for our next trip and that he needed some real boots, with better tread, support and water resistance than the shoes he was wearing.

He had fun and seemed to be interested in going again! I had a great time on the trip and look forward to backpacking with him again.  We'll get to Lake Snoqualmie one of these days.

You can see more of the photos from our trip on Flickr.

Trail Information: Otter and Big Creek Falls


Anonymous said...

awesome report, can't wait to do this with Linc when he gets older! We did car-camping this weekend in the St. Helens area, and while it was ridiculously less strenuous than what you guys went through, we had good fun too :)


Unknown said...

I'm glad you guys had fun! Definitely would be a fun day trip to those falls. :) Emphasis on "DAY."

Beau said...

Rog - its great to get outside. We've not yet been to Mt St Helens yet, or the environs. It might be on our list for summer, though. And strenuous, heck, this was relaxing!

Murph - Definitely a day trip. Its quite beautiful.

James (SeattleDad) said...

This sounds like an awesome trip Beau. Certainly the type of trip I would like to build up to with Lukas as he gets older.

Beau said...

James - Thanks. We had a lot of fun. Now we need to plan our next trip. Keep getting out there with your family!