North Fork Skykomish River, Blue Lake High — Saturday, Jul. 17, 2010
North Fork Skykomish River #1051 to Dishpan Gap and Blue Lake High Route. A wonderful trip offering everything from deep forest old growth to 6500' alpine scenery. North Fork Sky #1051 is in excellent condition, recent maintenance (June 2010?), logged-out, brushed-out, recent new puncheon, nice log at river crossing, no obstacles. Appreciations to the trail crew. Lovely trail. A few spots of high coltsfoot, thimbleberry, devil's club might be wet after a rain. Carpets of bunchberry dogwood and many other flowers. The road had bright carpets of the yellow lupine-like flower. Impressive big trees. Lots of frogs. Stream crossings are foot-dry. Lovely lush open glades in the upper riverbottoms. Observe, and you'll see several deep ax cuts in trees along the way; these were for animal traps -- weasel? fox? marten? one is large, 10' above the ground in a 4' diameter tree, possibly for bear or cougar. What a way to die. Snow at about 5000' where the trail enters the upper basin, at the top of the switchbacks. I lost the trail there but it wasn't needed. Firm snow. Alert navigation required to pick up the trail if descending this way on a loop, not idiot-proof but not difficult. Interesting artifacts in this basin, hidden under a stump: unused stovepipe rolls and empty liquor bottles, old sheep camp? Miners' cabin? Please leave them be. Turned uphill too soon on the snow and went almost to Ward's Pass instead of Dishpan Gap, an inexpensive mistake. Saw two parties doing the Meander Meadow -> Cady Ridge (or Cady Pass) loop. It's still all snow up here on the ridge, but firm, no postholes. A bare tent site at Dishpan Gap. The traverse from Dishpan Gap to Blue Lake High Route still has considerable snow and a few very short sections of arguably ice-axe terrain. Take care here if you're inexperienced with mountain snow travel; it's not terribly steep and the runouts not obviously dangerous, but you don't have to slide far to break an ankle. I had an ice axe. Some of these sticky spots could be carefully circumvented on dry ground. Snow was soft and easy; would've been more serious had it been hard. It's all bare and dry at the really steep spot where the trail is blasted. Blue Lake High Route #652.1 was almost all bare and dry on the south side. A couple of spots required real care: either a short steep drop into trees (enough to get hurt) or a couple of long snow tongues (not really high-angle but one might accelerate very quickly if the snow was hard). Near the top, one short switchback is still under snow but easily circumvented on steep dry ground with good footing. This snow will soon be gone. Beware rockfall up high. On the northwest side, the drop into Blue Lake is still all snow, so do not venture there without an ice axe and experience, and note that you cannot assess the condition of this Nnorth slope as you approach from the south; I was here same weekend in 2009 when these same slopes were already covered with blooming lupines. Blue Lake will be melted-out by next weekend. The short walk to Pt. 6562 summit is dry. Be careful with your feet, it's pristine. Some idiot found it necessary to deface the summit with a cairn -- thanks for telling us where the top of the mountain is. Did not do Bald Eagle Mountain #650 to Curry Gap (a great trail). It looked like it's in good-enough condition with stretches of snow travel. I'm guessing that where it traverses the north slope of Bald Eagle Mtn., comfort with steep snow travel might be welcome at this time. NOTE: this trailhead (North Fork Skykomish, West Cady Ridge, Quartz Creek) is some kind of Mecca for bugs. I used no DEET on this trip except once at the car, just to pack up, and once on the return, half a mile from the trailhead. Maybe it's something to do with the elevation or the logged-off second growth. Mosquitoes on the first 1.5 miles (the road) were Shock-and-Awe, but once into the forest, not an issue. Expect very businesslike insects at the start, but don't let them deter you. I've noticed this several times.