The first weeks of July I mostly walked to easy Cascade Lakes -- Camp Robber Creek and Lake Dorothy, Coal and Independence Lakes, Lake Evan and Boardman Lake, Independence Lake again on the way to the North Lake tarns. And off Beckler River I walked a bit of Johnson Ridge.
I paddled and dragged up Skykomish River from Sultan twice and once up the Snoqualmie from Zurflueh. Finally, for a second time I explored up the water-polished granite of Camp Robber Creek.

Saturday, the Fourth of July

Looking down the granite ramps of East Fork Miller River, past other hikers to the white-water slide and green-water pool on Camp Robber Creek.

With the day's expected 90°F heat, I was looking for a shady walk leading to a cool swim. I figured traffic would be down on the Fourth itself, since most people would already be where they were headed for the weekend.

South off US2, eight miles of easy washboard up the East Fork Miller River road led to the trailhead for the short hike to Lake Dorothy in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I didn't expect what I found along the way.

After about a mile, maybe halfway to the lake, the trail crossed Camp Robber Creek on a solid footbridge. There I finally saw clearly what I'd only glimpsed through the trees -- water running over sculpted and polished granite, slick-water slides, falls, and pools.

Below the bridge lay a small pool of cool, green water, bordered by water-polished granite, with a slide of water cascading into it. The pool cried out to be swum in. When I dove in, it was damn cold and no place to linger, but in the day's sweltering heat it felt great.


At low water, the sun-splashed granite of Camp Robber Creek.

Most of the East Fork Miller River had diverted to a different channel, leaving its bedrock granite exposed and dry. I wandered up ramps and slabs past pools of green water and logs bleached in the sun.

It was tempting to see how far up the river I could go, but thought it better to leave that project for another day. I dropped back down the ramps to the trail up to Lake Dorothy.

Beyond the bridge, the trail paralleled Camp Robber Creek for a little way, allowing for the creek's easy inspection. In this low water year, it looked like it might be possible to make an easy way up the creek's water-polished bedrock granite.

Above the valley, the trail worked its way up a headwall for a few hundred feet, then over to the lake's outlet. I've since read that there is a waterfall in the East Fork on that headwall that I'm pretty sure would have stopped my upward progress if I'd tried that exploratory route.


Lake Dorothy's granite beach. The island across the way is one of a half-dozen that dot the lake.

Sitting in forest at 3058 ft, Lake Dorothy was very pretty. As the book suggested, rather than taking the trail to the left toward campsites and toilets, I went right and crossed the outlet stream on logs.

Just beyond, at the perfect spot, a couple were packing to leave. They did, and in the afternoon's heat I didn't wait but stripped off pack and clothes and dove in. I swam over to a nearby ramp of granite, clambered up a little way, and dove in again.

The green water was welcoming, cool at first, then warm with the exercise of swimming. When I checked later, the water 72 degrees.


Big Snow Mountain from the outlet of Lake Dorothy. Click for an enlargement and description.

This area lies within the granodiorite Snoqualmie batholith. Above the lake's west shore were domes and columns of granite. To the south, Big Snow Mountain is granitic. And below lay lovely Camp Robber Creek, yet to be thoroughly explored.

I stayed for hours, from afternoon into evening, eating, swimming, and just looking, enjoying the place in the heat of the day.

One thing, though -- during my time there the woods stayed quiet. I never saw an osprey, and I never heard a thrush.


Tuesday, July 7th

Coal Lake.

I drove up the South Fork Stillaguamish again, first stopping at the ranger station. Because of an accident at the Big Four ice caves, a TV guy asked to interview me on camera.

I declined the chance, but when he wondered what it was like at the ice caves, since he'd not yet been, I said something like, "It feels alpine, like you're up at six thousand feet, instead of just a thousand, because the area is swept by avalanches. After all, you're right below one of the great north faces of the Cascades." A made-up TV-type lady standing nearby looked slightly shocked.

Turlo, and Red Bridge Campground too, looked just as inviting as before, even if they were now nearly full. I noticed the lack of "dispersed" campsites along the South Fork, unlike along the east-side Cle Elum River, so numerous and inviting there.

Shortly beyond the ice caves picnic area, I left the pavement for six miles of class 2 washboard up the Coal Lake road, FS 4060. At the lake I hoped to put the kayak in the water, but the narrow, root-bound, seventy-five feet of trail to the lake suggested not.

The main campsite at the lake was overused, but one across the outlet was in better shape, and complete with a bit of beach. It was in the shade, so back I went and down to the water, amid sunny, flowered rocks.

Independence Lake near sunset.

Since I hadn't tried it in a while, I tried swimming with sandals on and waded in a little. Damn, the lake was cold, but I dove in anyway and swam out a few strokes, only to realize how much the sandals weighed me down -- and how cold the water was. I stroked quickly back and climbed out of water and into the sun and a warm towel.

A few yards up the road from Coal Lake was the trailhead for little Independence Lake. The lake was only a half-hour's walk from the road, through lovely forest. It lay in a narrow basin, with a steep canyon below, deeply carved by its outlet stream. At the lake's upper end, beyond a small flowered meadow, open woods provided shady camp spots, complete with a wilderness latrine. The trail continued on in an intriguing fashion.

Update: Browsing for info about something else, I ran across a WTA page describing a work party for the Independence Lake to North Lake trail. A glance at the map confirmed that I had found the trail to North Lake.
Update2: It seems the Forest Service considers the old trail to Pass Lake from the Coal Lake road to be in play, calling it Trail 645.
Update3: Trail 645 is unmaintained.


Thursday, the 9th

On the trail to Boardman Lake. Click to enlarge the picture.

I drove up the Stilly South Fork again, this time turning up FS 4020 to the trailhead for Lake Evan and Boardman Lake. Lake Evan sat only a few yards from the road. While pretty, it was so eutrophic that in today's low water, its shoreline was too muddy to be inviting.

The short walk to Boardman Lake was through a stunning forest of giant cedars and hemlocks. The forest floor was carpeted with summer's usual suspects -- mosses and deer ferns, bunchberries and queen's cup.

The ancient cedars showed their ability to persevere. Healthy below, some more than six feet through at the butt, they all carried shortened tops of broken and bleached wood. Periods of freezing but dry weather will cause these "spike tops" in moisture-loving cedars, or so I read.

Cliffs of Boardman Lake.

Boardman Lake had a few other people scattered about enjoying the day. Down one way, three people took turns leaping off a high rock into the water. The lake's little beaches and glacier-polished rock held other folks, sun-bathing and swimming.

Island Lake, a little lake sitting above Boardman Lake, seemed like a possible further objective. But when I wandered around Boardman, hoping to find a boot-beaten route above, I was skunked.

Bathing rocks across the outlet of Boardman Lake.

But I did find a private beach and diving rocks and stayed for the afternoon, sun-bathing and swimming. The water of the lake was warm, almost too warm to be refreshing!

Update: Island Lake might be accessed from the Bald Mountain trail. See the picture for Hike 33, Bald Mountain, in 100 Hikes in Washington's Glacier Peak Region, 4th edition.


Sunday, July 12th

A first view of Independence Lake.

Driving past Coal Lake, I didn't spot the start of unmaintained Pass Lake trail 645, just looking from the car. Once parked at the trailhead, I hiked the short mile up to Independence Lake, around its north end, and through its inlet's lovely wet meadow, full of purple fireweed today.

This trip, however, I continued on, starting up a thousand vertical feet of trail, on a quixotic reconnaissance of the northwest ridge of Point 5445. The book says that in addition to overlooking North Lake, there were meadows and tarns and views up there: reason enough.

As it made its relentless, rocky ascent, the trail switchbacked up each treeless avalanche track sweeping down from the cliffs above, before contouring over to the next one. As the trail switchbacked up each one, this west-facing route provided a riot of flowers to entertain me, but also provided the unshielded afternoon sun to bake me.

I struggled upward in the heat, wishing I'd brought more water and praying to the Virgin.


Devil's Thumb.

The trail up the side of the mountain, gaining maybe eight-hundred feet in a half-mile, finally took me to the shaded woods at the head of the valley. There it swung east and worked up the undulating north shoulder of Point 5445, through woods and meadows, past tiny ponds and rock-bound tarns.

Outlet of a pond low on the north shoulder of Point 5445.

Although I didn't reach the ridge-top, I did get to the tarns below. In our recent heatwave, one of a pair of tarns had dried up, but the larger lakelet of the two was otherwise perfect for swimming -- but too cold today!

The pond had a very nice lakeshore campsite (with an equally-illegal firepit) that would provide a fine camp for a night, while exploring the meadows above.


Friday, July 17th

This side channel in Sultan River, at its Skykomish River confluence, had just enough water to float my boat.

From the Stevens Pass hiway outside of Sultan I drove to Olney Pass and into Sultan Basin to the Greider Lakes trailhead, only to find that two miles of road was closed, adding four miles to the walk to the lakes, and precluding views of Static Point, too. After taking pictures of Vesper Peak over the wasteland of Spada Reservoir, I headed back. But what to do?

Back down on US2, I'd driven countless times past where Sultan River empties into the Skykomish at the Sultan Sportsman Park and not stopped. So this time I drove into the park. To avoid disturbing the folks enjoying the Sky, I launched the kayak in a side channel of Sultan River and floated down six inches of water to the Skykomish.

Sultan River empties into a large slow-moving pool in Skykomish River in two jets of water. The wave action in the jets and their bordering eddies provided a little play, and the main jet had enough whitewater, barely, to provide a little surfing practice.


The pool on Skykomish River at the Sultan Sportsman Park.

Per American Whitewater, the Skykomish was at 432cfs ("Too low"), making upstream exploration of the river easier than at higher water. Heading up the river a short way, I worked the shoreline eddies, to be stopped at a riffle too fast to paddle up.

I paddled up a backwater and considered lining the boat further up the river, but decided to leave that for another day and headed back down.

I front ferried across the Sky to the far bank, noting boils in the eddy line, then paddled down the pool a few hundred yards. When the sound of whitewater below grew louder, and the current started to build a little, I turned around and worked back upstream.

Staying near the confluence for another hour, I played in the eddies and jets, surfed a little, and practiced back ferries across the main current of the Sky. I'll be back.


Monday, July 20th

Looking downstream, the first drag was up that short channel across the bar. The blocking riffle on the main stem would have been much longer to drag up.

At Sportsman Park on Sultan River I put in at the same spot as three days ago but this time paddled down the hundred feet or so of the Sultan's splashy Class I main channel to Skykomish River.

I paddled up the Sky to the riffle which had stopped me before, down river from the Mann Road bridge. A few feet up a side channel, I beached and dragged the boat up a short stream across the cobble bar (shown as an island on the 2011 Sultan Quad) to the main stem.

Back on the water, the river's slow current continued. I paddled under, then beyond, the Mann Road bridge. In the afternoon's heat, six turkey vultures circled above.

As I worked up along the bank on river left, rock abutments from two old bridges provided eddies to rest in and jets to play in. But the best feature was a small rocky drop at the remains of an old log pier. It provided the best surfing wave I've found yet -- if a bit dangerous, with small lumber just below. I played there a bit before ferrying across the river to beach the boat and drag it a hundred feet up a shallow diagonal bar to the next pool.

Upstream I could see the mouth of Wallace River. Beyond it was the first of the Sky's two large islands, according to the USGS quadrangle. When I reached the mouth of the Wallace, it had to be dragged a short distance, but then the stream offered a lovely quiet pool to paddle up, around a corner to. . . the next riffle to drag, with more shallow water visible beyond.

Winter steelheaders on the lower Sky, in this picture taken a few years ago from the Mann Road bridge, on a different kind of day with higher water.

I beached the boat on a gravel bar and explored a little on foot. It was the end of this part of the trip, maybe a hundred yards below a railroad bridge. I managed to paddle rather than drag out of the Wallace back into the Sky. Looking up the Skykomish, I decided the next drag upsteam would be too much for that day.

Downstream is always more fun. I paddled on down the river, until the boat bottomed a few feet down the big diagonal. I dragged to the next pool, where I played in the surfing wave a bit more, then floated downstream again, with no more drags, to the big pool at the Sultan River confluence.

I wandered down the pool again, dodging a family of mergansers, mother and three youngsters. When the sound of the rapid below grew too loud and I could see the tops of the white waves, I turned back, up into the slight current.

Paddling up the pool, I was startled by the splash of a huge jumping fish, and then another, and then another! By the time I put the boat in the car, I'd seen over a dozen leaping two-foot Chinook Salmon.

These Kings were holding in the deep pool in the river, waiting for higher water to run up Wallace River to the state salmon hatchery. Back home, I read that the Skykomish, Wallace, and a number of other western Washington rivers were closed to fishing because of historically low water.


Thursday, July 23rd

Up the Sky from the Mann Road bridge. Compare this to the picture above.

The road on the North Fork of Skykomish River was washed out only a few miles up. To get to anything beyond, like Troublesome Creek, you'd have to drive up the Beckler River and over Jack Pass.

In Sultan I turned off the hiway for the Mann Road bridge across Skykomish River and took a couple of pictures of my previous journey on the river, with my $4.95 flip-phone from Freddy's.

Further up the Sky, I stopped at the very first pull-out approaching Eagle Falls, and walked down an old road to discover a hidden campsite and a private beach. I scooted back to the car for supplies and came back to the beach for a swim. The water temperature was 62°F, much too cold to stay in for more than a few strokes and a bit of splashing. But I finally had a swim in the Sky.

Driving up the Beckler River got me fistfuls of camping and hiking possibilities, but no boating. The current flow per American Whitewater was 72cfs, less than a tenth of the minimum. What I saw today was continuous rockgardens. Of the Beckler, American Whitewater says "Season: Winter rains. Put-in can be snowed in during the coldest months." Oh, okay.


Looking down the Sky from the Mann Road bridge, you can just see the railroad bridge crossing the Sultan River, above the riffle that I finessed by dragging up the channel through the bar on the right.

I took the nearest interesting side-road, FR6520 (in good shape most of the way), up Johnson Ridge to the trailhead at 3600 feet. It offered hazy views of the ridges and forests of the Beckler River valley far below, the cliffs of Mount Fernow, the meadows of Evergreen Mountain (a hike to be done), and the tops of Cascade peaks all around.

I trucked up the rocky Johnson Ridge-Sunrise Mountain-Scorpion Mountain trail for maybe half a mile, called it good, and hiked back to the car to just enjoy the view.

Back down in the valley, the Beckler River campground had its campsites on the riverside all taken, but a number of others were free, including a couple that seemed quite private (whose numbers I failed to get). It's Hoodoo run. There are a couple of dispersed sites along the way, and the AW entry mentions camping up the Rapid River, too.


Saturday, the 26th

Taking a break up the lower Snoqualmie. (This, the two above, and one below are flip-phone photos.)

Once again I put the boat in the water at Zurflueh, the WDFW boat ramp on lower Snoqualmie River. It's below Snoqualmie Falls, and just above the confluence with Raging River.

I intended to paddle the slow water and track, or drag, the boat up the riffles and rapids as far upstream as seemed reasonable. As it happened, I got a couple of miles up, and with more work could probably make the Tokul Creek boat launch.

After the enjoyable float back down, when just above the little drop below the Raging River confluence, I let myself get caught in the current and swept downstream. Instead of riding the glassy jet, I opted for the standing waves and one strong turn into the eddy on river right.

From there I ferried across the jet to an eddy on the other side, beached the boat on the cobbles, dragged the boat back up into the pool above, and paddled back to the boat ramp, and home.


Wednesday, July 29th

Low water near my turn-around on Camp Robber Creek.

I didn't expect to make the hike all the way up to Lake Dorothy again. Once I had hiked to the bridge at Camp Robber Creek and a very cold, very short swim, I intended this time to see how far I could get up Miller River's East Fork.

As it turned out, not far. The steep granite ramps and slabs soon reverted to a flat, bouldery riverbed -- uninteresting. Above that I could see the headwall below Lake Dorothy where a waterfall would be. So back down I wandered to Camp Robber Creek.

From the bridge I managed to work up maybe a hundred feet of the creek's polished bedrock before being stopped by a channel of water I couldn't easily cross.

I diverted to the parallel trail for a bit, before dropping down to the creek once more.

Lovely. For a hundred yards or so, I wandered up water-polished granite, hopped watery sluices and skirted green pools. Both the place and the route were stunning. At last the way was blocked by water too wide to cross with dry feet. So back down to the trail, and home again. I must come back.

Friday, July 31st

From the Sportsman Park at Sultan, again I floated the few feet down Sultan River to the big pool on Skykomish River. After brunch, I paddled downstream to examine the rapid below the pool. The little rapid looked like it would be too hard to drag back up, so I again paddled upstream, working up to the Wallace River again, mostly the same as described on July 20th, just above. The surfing wave was gorgeous. No pics this time, I'm afraid, since in the last few days I've managed to drown both my camera and my phone.

Here's the journal for August 2015.


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