Trip Report for Johnson Ridge

Where: Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National ForestJohnson Ridge 2014-11-28 _MG_9811
When: Friday, November 28, 2014
Stats: 4.0 miles round trip – 1,500 foot elevation gain

I set out this morning for what I’ve been thinking of as my bonus hike. Having Black Friday off (a rare thing in retail!) I determined to get myself up early and head for the mountains. This was a bonus because it falls in between hikes on my every-two-weeks schedule. I went hiking last Wednesday, I went hiking today, and I’ll be going hiking next Thursday. Sounds pretty ideal if you ask me!

This was the first hike I’ve done this year that took place in more than a light and occasional sprinkle. By “more than” what I mean is that it poured down on my head. What that means in the grand scheme of things is that I got to see how my gear does in the rain and I took very few photos. The fact that I took any at all is solely due to my having the camera in the front seat of my car with me as I drove away from the trailhead. I had hoped that the temperature would be cold enough as I reached higher altitudes to turn the rain to snow, but that was not to be.

I got up around 6:00 am today and was on the road by 7:00. The drive proved uncongested and quite without human impediment, allowing me to reach the trailhead by 9:00. Along the way, though, I saw and experienced some quite exceptional things.

The first thing worthy of remark was the Skykomish River. I do not think I’ve ever seen one of our western Washington rivers in such a full-throated, roaring, monster of a mood. The river was swollen and tumultuous, overrunning its banks, and churning along like some roiling, brown animal. Everywhere were ferocious whitecaps and plunges where the force of the water coming over a rock actually created a sink on the other side below the level of the water around it. It was powerful, awe-inspiring, and a little frightening. Even up on the mountain a little later on I could still hear it far below and out of sight.

The second thing of note were the many waterfalls I saw on the drive, many of them right along the side of Highway 2. Between waterfalls small and large, near and far, I think I must have seen more than fifty of them. Some of them were obviously following established channels while others were flowing willy-nilly wherever they could, forcing their way down from the mountains above. Could I have stopped in the middle of the highway I would have many pictures of them from within my car.

The third thing that sticks in my memory from the drive in were the various obstructions on the roads up to the trailhead. On Beckler Road, within a half a mile of Highway 2, there was an impromptu stream flowing across the road and down to the river. I hit it faster than I should have, retrospectively, but I didn’t realize how deep it was. The twin sprays of water were higher than my roof (I saw them come down on my sunroof) and my engine made some unhappy sounds for a few minutes afterward. On Forest Road 6520 the obstructions came in the form of numerous rock falls across the road. They ranged in size from golf ball to microwave oven, which meant that I was constantly dodging about the first road to avoid hitting things that could do my car mischief. There were also a few patches of slushy snow. It made for an exciting drive, let me tell you.

At the trailhead the couple of minutes that it took me to get everything together blew quite a bit of rain into my car, so I decided right away that I was going to use my backpack’s builtin rain fly. I’m very glad I did as that kept everything inside mostly dry. What little dampness got in would probably be alleviated by having someone else along to check its positioning once I had it on my back. At the beginning and for the first little stretch the trail alternated between being clear and a little snowy. That quickly changed to mostly snowy and very slushy. For a while there was a stream flowing down the trail with a layer of snow on top of it, so every step was on to snow, through snow, into flowing water. All the while the wind continued to blow and the rain to come down.

As I mentioned earlier, even up here away from the river, I could still hear it rumbling along below like some sort of elemental freight train. Add to that the wind that was constantly blowing through the evergreens all around me, making their boughs sound like an agitated ocean tide. Add to that the constant fall of rain on me and everything around me. It was noisy up there on that trail!

About half way up the trail, once it had turned pretty much entirely to snow with very little water underneath, I started encountering animal tracks. First were some fairly large deer tracks. A little while later, though, I started seeing cat tracks. Over the course of the next half hour I was walking along on the same path that a big cat had been using. A few of the tracks averaged about three to three-and-a-half inches across. Most were in the two to two-and-a-half inch range. A few were smaller, more like one-and-a-half inches across. I don’t know what this means, exactly, as far as what had been using the trail before me, but I’m guessing there was more than one cat up there. Based on the depth of the tracks I figure the cat wasn’t very heavy, so I think it or they were probably bobcats. I would also guess that it or they had been through there over the course of several hours, possibly as long ago as last night, possibly as recently as an hour or tow before me. Pretty durn cool!

As I neared the summit of Sunrise Mountain I saw a flash of brown pelt of to one side. “Kitty?!?”, I thought. No, it was just a pair of deer. The doe was nothing new to me as I’ve seen them many times out and about. The buck, though, was a first. Until today I had never seen a buck deer, with a rack of antlers on his head, out in the wild. That was pretty thrilling in its own right and I’m glad it happened.

After a bit longer, trudging through the wet snow covering the ground, I finally made it to the top of Sunrise Mountain. While this was to be my half-way mark on my way to Scorpion Mountain I decided to make it my destination for a couple of reasons. One was that I was getting soaked. The other was that I couldn’t figure out where the trail went from there! Visibility was good out to about fifty feet from the summit and then stopped cold. It wasn’t that visibility extended fifty feet out from me, it was that around the summit was a ring of clouds. It was pretty surreal to stand there, snow a foot deep around my ankles, rain pouring down on me, all the trees clear and sharp out for a couple of dozen yards, and then nothing. There was a real feeling of being cut off and isolated from the world. I stood there for a while, soaking it all in.

After a little while I started back down, ready to be getting back to my car and out of the incessant rain. As I trudged down the trail, slipping through the snow, I was able to catch some glimpses of the surrounding landscape. I don’t know if there were some clearer patches at that point or if it was simply a matter of my facing in the opposite direction, but I got a better sense of what things looked like around me. Mountains were hinted and valleys suggested.

Finally back at my car I paused for a while to let the fog clear from the windows and then I started back down. Along this way is when I took all the pictures and videos that you’ll eventually see. I got down off of FR6520 as easily as I had gone up it, there being no new obstructions. I mention this lack because, back on the paved stretch of Beckler Road, I suddenly found myself confronting a tree that had come down on the road while I was up hiking! Luckily it was only blocking one and a third lanes, so I was able to get around it. Near the end of the road the stream flowing across it had grown wider and deeper so I took things far more slowly.

Before making my way home I stopped at the local ranger station to let them know about the road and trail conditions. He seemed surprised that I had done so, which surprised me. I would think that more people would have the common sense to do this, but I guess not. That’s a shame.

Driving through Skykomish I saw a fairly large bald eagle cruising overhead, and then a second one a little while later on. That makes my wildlife tally for the day two deer and two eagles. Not too bad! All in all I rounded out my excursion thoroughly soaked and thoroughly happy. With the weather being what it was on this trip I will definitely be planning a return visit so that I can go all the way out to the second mountain and take in some of the views that this hike is noted for.

Johnson Ridge Photo Gallery

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