Thursday, June 28, 2012

Elk Creek Trail and Elk Mountain Trail Loop

Elk Creek Trail and Elk Mountain Trail Loop

About once a year I loose my sanity for a few hours, forget my age and that I vowed I would never do this again, and I hike Elk Mountain This year was a good year at least in the fact that I am down a few pounds and must be in better shape. I also decided to fool myself by doing the loop in the opposite direction from that which I usually use.

This time I went counter clockwise. I started at Elk Creek Campground and then climbed up Elk Creek Trail. I ate lunch on the unnamed summit (which I am trying to name by Google Earth is giving me issues) and then I hooked up with the Elk Mountain trail and came down the “short” way.

View Elk Creek Trail to Elk Mountain Loop in a larger map

Here is how it goes.

Most of the trails in this area are either part of old logging trails, or connect old logging trails together. The Elk Creek Trail is actually listed on Google earth (and other maps) as Elk Creek Road. It is pretty recognizable as a road at the parking lot (where you leave your car) as there is still a bridge in place across Elk Creek. In fact, you drive across this bridge to park in the lot right there where the road is blocked. Personally, I think they should move the boulders blocking the road and open up the Elk Creek Campground for another half mile. Could probably add another dozen walk in campsites.

Anyway, you start up the trail. The first mile or so is down by the river and not very steep. It is very pretty with lots of Alder. I have seen salmon in the river. Just before the fork in Elk Creek, there is a new trail head that does a wet ford of the creek and heads up the East Branch of Elk Creek as the Idiot Creek Road Loop Trail. Haven't done that one yet. It is a new trail just opened last year.

Now the trail gets steeper. I think of this section as the first of the 4 hard parts. This is a little bit of a joke since there isn't much if any rest between the hard parts. About 5 years ago we had a bad storm right here in Elk Creek. The river flooded big time, put the campground under a few feet of water <find pictures> and must have really been something to see in the tight river valley. Lots of debris up higher than we are hiking. Sometimes I wish I could have been here to see it, but surviving may have been problematic. Because of this, we get a little side jaunt off of the old (now partially missing) road and into the forest. The trails in this area are maintained by guys from the local prison. It is a low security type arrangement and the inmates do trail maintenance and fire fighting. My understanding from the Rangers is that getting into this job is very popular with the inmates.

At around 2000 feet, just after the first set of switch backs, I got quite the surprise. I ran into a very nice stand of blooming Bear Grass. I usually think of Bear grass as being around fourth of July (but also higher up). I haven't seen it down this low on this trail before. Though I have seen it at around this altitude over on Storey Burn, so there you go.


The other big flower surprise for me was the Indian Paint Brush. I have done the Elk Creek part of this hike many times and I have never seen the Paint Brush out like it was today. You will be seeing lots of pictures of it through this blog.
Indian Paint Brush



Paint Brush and Harebell

There was No One on the trail today (a Monday). I thought I heard voices at one time at around 3000 feet, but no one ever caught up to me. Of course, I was moving really fast. I guess the hiking I have been doing has gotten me into good shape, but I also think the 2 weeks I took off (to go to japan, see my other blog <link to other blog> helped my knee a lot. I was also traveling really light.

Usually, when I go hiking, I carry a lot of “emergency” gear. I carry so much that people often ask me if I am out on a weekend trip. “No, just don't want to die” I say.

I usually carry:
  1. a fleece or light jacket.
  2. Rain coat.
  3. 6x8 tarp
  4. sleeping pad (to sit on for lunch)
  5. Emergency Bivy (really just a space blanket sack)
  6. First aid kit
  7. Something to purify water (usually a filter).
  8. Extra socks.
  9. Compass and flashlight
  10. SPOT emergency locator beacon.
  11. Knife
  12. and depending on the season: Stove and pot for making soup and tea.

However, since I have been packing up and planning for my overnight Tillamook Railroad hike, I have had everything in a different pack and I didn't get it into my day pack this time. So I was very light.

It was summer so I didn't pack Fleece and I didn't have the shelter or the sleeping pad. Or extra socks.

And it rained on me and was very cold and stormy. And I find that your shoes don't fill up with water because it is raining, they fill up with water because the low level plants are all wet, which makes your pants legs wet, which soaks into your socks and that makes your shoes fill up with water.
I also didn't have my gators. Who knew?

At 4 miles, you get to the end of the Elk Creek trail. Now there is a little connector trail that takes you to the intersection of the Elk Mountain Trail and the Kings Mountain Trail. But before we head out that way, let's take advantage of the little stream here to re-fill our water bladder. Good thing we remembered to bring a filter. I am using a little in line filter from a cut off 1 liter pop bottle that feeds by tubing right into my platypus 2 liter water bag (in my pack). This creek is going to be dry in another month. Too bad.

So we head off down the ridge trail toward Kings Mountain Trail. About 2/3 of the way down this ridge trail, there is a unmarked but pretty visible branch to the right. Take this up to the Un-named Ridge. This is a cool place to go. It is actually higher (according to Google Earth and other geo maps at my disposal) that either Elk Mountain or Kings Mountain. And it has a great view. Only not today because it was all rainy and such. There is a nice flat place up there. Several old fire rings. I want to spend the night up there one weekend this summer. I will have to do an ultra-light pack to get up there, which means it should be when it is warmer. Of course, when it is warmer, there won't be that water at the end of Elk Creek trail.

I told you it was raining
foggy view from the summit.

well, actually, that is the summit up there. 


That is Kings Mt in the background

The fog is cooking up over the ridge.

But why is it “Un-named Ridge”? I figure, since it doesn't have a name, I should be able to name it. I mean, if someone else cared, they would have named it. So, I am adding trails and such to Google Maps using the new Map Maker Application, and I try naming the trail “Ridge Trail” , I mean, it is a 100 yard abandoned logging road that leads to the ridge. Clearly it is Ridge Trail. But the reviewer says I can't name it that because the trail doesn't have a name. Duh. If it doesn't have a name, then I should have the RIGHT to name it.

Perhaps I will try naming the ridge, “Jon's Ridge”. See if they catch that one.

The little summit you get to at the end of Ridge Trail (damnit, perhaps it should be “summit trail”) has lots of flowers for most of the spring and summer. Right now it was Indian Paint Brush and Harebell. Later it will have mountain (or perhaps bog) Gentian. I really like the purple of Gentian.

After lunch I headed over to the Elk Mountain and Kings Mountain trail crossroads. I figured that if I got there I could convince myself to do the Ridge over to Elk Mountain and then do the descent. Part of myself wasn't falling for it, so I distract myself by singing, over and over again, the Monkies hit song, “Day Dream Believer”.

That worked pretty well.



From the junction it is 2 miles to Elk Mountain Summit and then another 1.5 miles to the campground where we started (and our tent is set up. Hey, did you bring the beer?). The first mile or so of this is deceptively gentle. We are still on old Lumber road, going through pine forest, with some very nice views of Kings Mountain and Dog Creek drainage. Would be better if it wasn't for the clouds.

This is looking North West. 

Poor lonely Bear Grass against the fog.
bunch berry

But we soon hit the end of the road. Now we are REALLY on the ridge. I mean, we are scrambling hands and butts up and down these rocks that are the ridge between Dog Creek Drainaige and Elk Creek Drainiage. There it is, steep to in both directions.

That ridge is steep too on both sides

Just some Stone Crop. I like Stone Crop.

This is a very hard little section. Kept switching between thanking god that I had my trecking poles and putting the damn things back on my pack so I could use my hands to climb the wall. This goes on for just long enough for you to thoroughly curse the Monkies and their fraking day dreams. And who wrote those lyrics, for gosh sakes, “But it rings and I rise, wash the sleep out from my eye, the shaving razor's cold and it stings”.

But I digress.

As I mentioned eariler, I have never hiked this section of the hike in the so called “Down Hill” direction. At this point of the trail, the entire down hill thing is open for argument. In fact, the last 60 feet to the summit, is very much a hands and feet rock climb. I am sure my friends children that do competitive rock climbing would laugh at all of this, but lets see them try it with a 100lb pack on their back!! (I am, of course, adding additional pack weight to offset the difference in weight than me and a 15 year old girl rock climber.)(hmm, perhaps that should be a 150 pound pack).

Anyway. The summit.

oh look, Pain Brush !!

This looked a lot more straight up when I was climbing it.


Bear Grass on the summit. Cool

now we have 1.5 miles and 2000 feet (down) to go. All of this is right straight down the ridge line. I get to put this into Google Maps too. (I hope). This is very slow work. It took me around 2 hours. People with better knees or less of an imagination can probably do better.

Lots of cool views of the Wilson River Highway (and River) way down there. Oh, and more Indian Paint brush.


looking down on Wilson River Highway (and Wilson River)

I fell once. I almost fell more than that. My good knee was stressing out from taking most of the strain on the down steps. But, all in all, it wasn't as bad a going up.

And when I got back to my car, I was content to know that I had a tent set up and ready for me in my campground, so I could go ahead and have a cold beer from my cooler. (Oh what the hell, 2 cold beers).

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