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Outdoor reader reports game changing around Lookout Pass

CAMPING — Rich Servatius sent in this report after 12 days of exploring the Route of the Hiawatha and Loop Creek areas along the Montana-Idaho border.

My extended family and friends have been going there for about 15 years for a week or so.  Each time we go the wildlife that we see changes.

The first year we saw 13 bears between us, the next year only one and haven’t seen any since.

We normally see about one moose per day; this year we saw one only.

We normally have deer hanging around our camp on Loop Creek; this year we mostly saw them in the old railroad tunnels, but did see some in the Loop Creek valley.

We saw lots of beaver the first five years; one this year.

We saw a few elk tracks this year and heard reports of 22 head near Dominion Peak a couple months ago, but we saw none.

Four years ago my sister saw a wolf near I-90 and close to St. Regis (our first sighting).  This year a pack of wolves were howling just a hundred yards from me to the south of the Gold Hill trail, coming from Moon Pass direction (West).  That was a little exciting and scary too.  No wonder that the couple of ATV riders were carrying pistols.  My only weapon was a rock.

As for huckleberries, they were ripe at lower elevations in places with lots of sun and I found one place higher up in an alpine meadow where the berries were 50 to a bush and juicy.  It will be another couple of weeks before they start showing up in quantity.

Wild flowers were showing their splendor.

Shefoot mountain was pretty, but someone had left a fire burning at the top and a little trash.

If you go to that area, expect lots of bicycle traffic and dust.

We helped a couple of ATV riders clear the Idaho / Montana state line road for a few miles for ATV use.  We didn’t have the equipment and gas and manpower to clear it for truck use.   About 100 trees were down between Roland Pass and the paved road from the St. Joe River to St. Regis pass.  Someone else had cleared the road before us, so these trees had probably blown down in the last few weeks.  If you take that route; bring a chainsaw, help, shovels, and cable.

Spots of snow 2 feet deep were melting slowly.  The snow on Shefoot Mtn. was melting fast…none on the road, which was clear.

Lots of flies and those *&%$#@ skeeters to bother people!

—Rich Servatius

Hiker packs heat, stands tall against a charging … pika

HIKING — Since Congress overturned the Reagan-era restrictions on openly carrying firearms in national parks, we're seeing noticeably more heat on trails in and outside of parks nowadays.

Nevermind the research in Alaska showing that pepper spray is a much more certain defense in case of an attack by a grizzly.

But a hiker never knows what other critter might charge from the wilderness.

Here's a report from a recent hiking trip by outdoor photographer Jaime Johnson of Lincoln, Mont., to go with his photo, above.  Trust me, this will leave you shaking your head.

“After a grueling hike of several hours off trail, we were set up (with our cameras) on the edge of this rockslide waiting for the pika’s to make their appearance. They seem to dislike the warm mid-day heat and become active just before dark. The entire hike in we walked through fresh grizzly digs that were made within the last one or two days.. we kept one eye watching for one to make an appearance.

“Instead, we heard approaching hikers. Yeah, I couldn’t believe it. We never see other hikers. They were trudging along the rockslide walking by. They had no clue we were even in the universe. Then to make things worse, a pika lets out a chirp right in front of them (they were about 50 yards away from us).

“The first guy draws his pistol and takes aim on the pika. Before he could shoot, I hollered out “Dude, don’t shoot the pikas.”

“Surprised by our presence, the guy jumped a foot. Then he sheepishly said, 'But he was coming right at me.'

“I said, 'Yeah, killer pika,' and shook my head.

“He seemed embarrassed, put his pistol away and continued walking.”

Today it’s even more peaceful at Gypsy Peak

HIKING — Today is the first day of the annual late-summer closure of several roads leading to prime recreation areas in the Sullivan Lake Ranger District of the Colville National Forest.

The closures were instituted in the 1980s to reduce human disturbance in prime grizzly bear habitat and berry areas when they are most attractive to bears, acccording to Mike Borysewicz, Forest Service wildlife biologist.

The gates were locked yesterday on two notable roads leading to trailheads:

  • Johns Creek Road 500 off the 2200 Road just east of Sullivan Lake Campgrounds. It provide's access to the Trail 540 trailhead for the shortest hike (2.5 miles one way) to Hall Mountain, which looms over Sullivan Lake.   Ironically, because of the late spring weather and snowpack, the road is closing before that area's huckleberry crop is ripe.
  • Bear Pasture Road 200 off the 2212 Road near northwest of Gypsy Meadows. It runs to the border of the Salmo-Priest Wilderness, offering the easiest foot access to Gypsy Peak (elev. 7,309 ft.), the highest mountain in Eastern Washington. The route is about 4 miles one way using the alpine-bound Trail 515 and off-trail scrambling.  But you'll have to wait until next year. 

I drove up both of these roads and hiked the trails last week to beat the closures. The areas area spectacular.

The huckleberries were green but the mosquitoes were at their peak.

I met Rick Moore, who was surveying dragonflies for the Forest Service. He said the mosquitoes were viscious at Watch Lake, but around the ridge, where violet-green swallows were swarming like bees — the mosquitoes were barely noticeable.  A coincidence?  Hmmm.

If you want to hear the buzz for yourself now that Road 200 is gated, you'll have to hike all of Crowell Ridge from the Sullivan Lake Lookout more than 8 miles one way to Gypsy Peak.

Construction forces Centennial Trail detour

TRAIL REROUTED: Upriver Drive from Freya to Frederick:

A sewer construction project will create an Upriver Drive detour for Centennial Trail users for almost a year, the Friends of the Centennial Trail report.

The trail will be closed from Freya to Frederick Avenue on Upriver Drive. There will be a detour in place and signage to guide users.

The Friends group has maps and details on its website.

Directions: Coming from downtown going east take Ralph to Carlisle to Havana to Fredrick and back out on Upriver Drive. It may be possible at times to let Trail users back onto the east section of Upriver Dr. at times during this project. If you have a street bike avoid signed detour onto gravel road sections. 

Forest crews hacking through Blue Mountains blowdowns

TRAILS – A November storm left a nasty surprise for Forest Service trail crews heading out in the Blue Mountains this summer.

“There’s more timber down this year than I’ve seen in the 30 years I’ve been on trails,” said Rich Martin, trails coordinator for the Pomeroy District. “We were averaging 50 downed trees per mile.

“On the trail from Teepee Trailhead to Oregon Butte, we had to get a fire crew in to help us out or we’d have never got the three miles cleared out to get the lookout (staffer) in there.

“One poor contractor bid the job on the Wenaha River trail last year and came in and couldn’t believe the mess the winter left him. But he had some strong boys with him and they just pulled out of there this week.

“The Wenaha River trail is cleared out and there’s been a lot of other reconstruction work, but you couldn't ride a horse across the river until late July this year because of all the water coming down — and it just kep coming.”

Read on for other projects underway, some of which will be especially good news to hunters:

Whiteness greets hikers slogging deep into Eagle Cap Wilderness

BACKPACKING — The photo above shows Jeff Lambert of the Spokane Mountaineers in the last weekend of July along with Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap Peak from Carper Pass — all popular backpacking destinations in the Eagle Cap Wilderness.

The shot is worth a thousand words and a lot of slogging.

The high backcountry in the Wallowa Mountains of northeastern Oregon requires hikers to be equipped for snow, including self-arrest tools.

Woman breaks Appalachian Trail speed-hiking record

HIKING — Striding along at a rate of nearly two marathons A DAY, Jennifer Pharr Davis has set an unofficial record for the fastest assisted hike of the entire Appalachian Trail from Mount Katahdin in Maine to Springer Mountain in Georgia.

She saw 36 bears, moose, porcupines and every sunrise and sunset during an epic 2,180 mile journey that lasted 46 days, 11 hours and 20 minutes. Friends and spouse supported her effort so she could trek equipped with a daypack or less.

She went through five pairs of hybrid hiking and running shoes while averaging about 47 miles a day, or nearly two marathons, breaking the previous record set by a man six years ago by just over 24 hours.

And she suffered nearly a week of dysentery in the early portion of her trek, giving a new twist to “the trots.”

‘Fastest is so relative,’ Davis told the Associated Press on Tuesday after estimating she had slept about 30 of the past 48 hours. ‘My average was 3 mph. So what are you not going to see at 3 mph?’

She emerged from the woods on Sunday and walked to the granite slab on Springer at the trail's southern end. Her parents and dozens of other family members and friends were cheering her on.

‘There were a lot of tears,’ Davis said. ‘Everyone was like: “Are those happy tears?” I just said they're everything tears. I'm so happy. In a way, I'm sad it's over.

Of course, this isn't Jennifer's first hiking experience.  Here's one of my previous posts on Davis' adventures with links for background.

Glacier Park warning high country hikers to have self-arrest equipment

HIKING – Glacier National Park rangers are warning hikers to think like mountaineers in their preparation for trekking high-elevation trails — much as I suggested from my recent experience in this morning's post.

As they opened the popular Highline Trail at Logan Pass to foot travel they offered timely advice to hikers who might venture on the still-snow-patched trail.  Read on…

Mountain bikers head to Kettle Crest for work, play

MOUNTAIN BIKING — Riders from across the Northwest are planning to meet on the Kettle Crest Trail Aug. 10-14 to mix trail work with single-track pedaling on the Kettle Crest trail system in northeastern Washington.

“One day is reserved for trail work (under the direction of the Forest Service and experienced trail crew leaders) in order to leave the trails in better shape,” said Peter Jantz, president of the Spokane-based Fat Tire Trail Riders Club.

The event is sponsored by Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Fat Tire Trail Riders, the US Forest Service and New Belgium Beer. For more info, visit the Fat Tire Trail Riders website.

The Kettle Crest Trail and its connectors offer incredible views and top-notch singletrack in a sub-alpine setting.

Portions of the Colville National Forest along the trail have been proposed for wilderness, which could preclude the use of bicycles.

A meeting in Spokane tonight will present information about the forest plan revision and effective ways to comment on the proposals

Highly poisonous hemlock found near South Hill bluff trails

TRAILS — “Recently I was dismayed, but not surprised, to find poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) growing beside Hangman Creek below the High Drive Bluff,” said Diana Roberts, WSU area extension agronomist for the Spokane/Lincoln County Extension

Why is this significant?

“Poison hemlock is the most poisonous plant in the Western Hemisphere,” she said.

Roberts offers these insights and tips:

  • Poison hemlock is a plant native to the Pacific Northwest, but it is increasing in population locally. At this point there are a few plants in Hangman Creek below the Bluff, but many more upstream and it is likely to increase
  • It grows in moist locations, often close to Water/Cow Parsnip which looks somewhat similar (see photos)
  • Parsnip is edible but water hemlock is extremely poisonous. Confusion between the 2 species can be fatal to people seeking parsnip
  • Hemlock does not have to be ingested to cause damage. Pulling out the plants without wearing long sleeves and gloves causes an itchy rash (like poison ivy). However, allowing the plant to come into contact with mucous membranes can be fatal, i.e. don't let your dog run through this stuff - especially with mouth open and tongue lolling.
  • Keep yourselves and your pets out of it! 


Wash vehicles to reduce spread of weeds

CONSERVATION — Vehicles can pick up large numbers of seeds from weeds and other plants and spread them for miles, especially when the vehicles are driven off-trail and under wet conditions.

This factor in the spread of noxious weeks is documented in a story in a new Montana State University Extension publication describing field studies that measure the extent to which vehicles pick up and disperse weed seeds.

Some of the findings include:

  • Wet conditions promote weed attachment to vehicles.
  • ATVs picked up large numbers of seeds. In the fall, up to 5,500 seeds per mile were picked up off-trail compared to about 400 seeds per mile on-trail. The number of seeds picked up in spring was much lower.
  • Tracked vehicles picked up more seeds than wheeled vehicles.
  • Up to 99 percent of seeds stayed attached to a truck after traveling 160 miles under dry conditions, but seed retention was much lower after traveling long distances under wet conditions.
  • However, if seeds are picked up in mud, which then dries on the vehicle, they can travel almost indefinitely until it rains or the road surface is wet, allowing for extremely long distance transport of seeds.

The researchrs say preventing the spread of weeds into non-infested areas is the most effective and efficient way to manage weeds over the long term.

To help prevent the spread of weeds, washing vehicles frequently is beneficial with particular concentration on wheel wells. Washing vehicles is especially important before and after driving on roads with high densities of weeds along the edges or after driving off-road or trail.

Trail down from Mount Spokane summit closed for re-routing

TRAILS – A trail that plummets down from the summit of Mount Spokane has been closed for re-routing and erosion control.

Steve Christensen, state park manager, said Trail 135 is especially popular with mountain bikers, but it’s poorly designed and seriously eroding.

Plans to re-route the trail will make it safer, he said, but the bulk of the work may not get underway until September.  The new version of the trail will be renumbered 140 and connect with another reconstructed trail that descends to the Mount Kit Carson Lower Loop Road trailhead.

Another priority project, Christensen said, is widening the nordic skiing trails to accommodate a larger groomer the state park may be able to purchase.

Four organizations leading group hikes to choice wildlands

HIKING — It's not too late to join organizations leading Inland Northwest group hikes this summer. Check them out:

Please confirm with field trip leaders before attending any of these group hikes.

Nisbet to lead walk, wild plant discussion on South Hill bluff trails

TRAILS — Is Spokane’s High Drive Bluff festooned with native plants or plagued by weeds?
Author and naturalist Jack Nisbet along with WSU scientist Diana Roberts will lead a hike along the bluff trails on Wednesday to help trail fans understand the vegetation.

The event starts at 7 p.m. at Polly Judd Park,1732 W. 14th Ave.
Wear clothes and shoes suitable for a hike on the trails. This workshop is not designed for young children or dogs.
Info: Diana Roberts, WSU Spokane County Extension, (509) 477-2167, email robertsd@wsu.edu.

Pacific Crest Trail stretch to be closed next week

BACKPACKING — The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail No. 2000 will be closed to all users at the I-90 North Trailhead from Monday July 25 through Thursday July 28 to allow trail crew members to remove a large “log jam” from the trail.

The area of trail blocked by the downed trees is ¼ mile long and is extremely difficult for hikers to pass through, according to Cle Elum Ranger District officials.

“It is a very complex pile of blowdown and will require a variety of removal methods” said Deb Davis, veteran trail crew member.

The trailhead will be posted with closure information and trail crew members will be on the trail to prevent hikers from entering the project area while work is in progress.

Info: Cle Elum Ranger Station, (509) 852-1100.

Swollen streams pose obstacles to hikers

TRAILS — Many mountain streams are still flowing higher than normal for this time of year. 

Hiker's setting out for hikes that require fords should call ahead and plan for possible adjustments to their routes.

Routes around Mount Rainier that ford glacier-melt rivers can be deadly, especially this year.  Others, such as the Salmo River in northeastern Washington or the Little North Fork of the Clearwater in Idaho, might simply be a bit more inconvenient than usual.

Hiking poles and separate shoes for wading might be in order, and in some cases, a climbing rope and dependable companions may be needed for safety. 

Hunter makes case for visible license plates on ORVs

 OFF ROAD VEHICLES — After ATVers who ignored signs and violated rules spoiled an opening day hunt with his 11-year-old son, an Idaho sportsman calls for making off-road vehicle riders accountable.

Derrick Reeves of the Idaho Backcountry Hunters & Anglers makes his case in a commentary in New West online magazine.
A national ID standard should be established, and it would be most effective if the license or registration sticker was truly visible.
Read on for the main points of Reeve's proposal.

Idaho’s Fish Lake Trail temporarily closed to motor vehicles

TRAILS — A popular Bitterroot Mountains destination for ATVers up from the North Fork of the Clearwater River has been closed to motorized traffic temporarily because of lingering snow and wet conditions, the Clearwater National Forest says.

Fish Lake Trail 419, located 15 miles south of Hoodoo Pass near the Idaho-Montana state line, is closed to motor vehicles to prevent damage to the trail and fragile high alpine meadows on the lake’s western edge, where ATVers like to congregate.

The trail is still snow-covered in many places, said Adam McClory, the Clearwater's North Zone recreation staff officer.  The dispersed campsites located near the lake are also under snow.

McClory said that Forest officials hope to reopen the trail in mid-August.

  • For updates on road and trail conditions, contact the Clearwater National Forest Information Desk, (208) 476-8267.

Centennial Trail affected by Trent Bridge construction

TRAILS — Several construction projects are affecting recreationists traveling the Spokane River Centennial Trail this season.

The newest project involves construction under the Trent Bridge, set to start July 25.

Contractors will be laying ATT cable. Work will be through the week and perhaps into the week of Aug. 1. Trail closures of 2-3 hours are likely at the end of the week of July 25th or the beginning of the week of August 1.

For updates on other construction projects and the Thursday announcement of the membership drive bicycle drawing winner, check out the Friends of the Centennial Trail website.

Car vandalized at South Hill bluff trail parking area

TRAILS — Never leave a purse, wallet or valuables in sight in a car seat while parked at a trailhead, whether it's along the Centennial Trail or at the edge of a wilderness.

The latest reminder occured Monday around 10 a.m. when a vehicle parked on High Drive near 37th Avenue was struck by a thief while the driver was hiking the  South Hill bluff trails. 

The thief, apparently attracted by a purse left in the vehicle's seat, broke the window in full view of a residential area and fairly busy city street, grabbed the prize and was off.

Hike reveals bare grass fantasy

HIKINGWhen I hike through the forest this time of year, I can't help but note the resemblance between blooming beargrass and ….

Last chance: Centennial Trail group offers chance to win bike

TRAILS — Forget the freaking Washington State Lottery. If you want a GOOD chance to win something valuable, join the Friends of the Centennial Trail.

People who become members by Friday (July 15) get their name entered in a drawing to win a Trek 7.2 FX 20-inch bicycle, sponsored by Two Wheel Transit.

It's a nifty bike, and the odds are outrageous.  Only about 60 people have signed up in this campaign.

Check out the details on the Friends' website or call (509) 624-7188.

  • Incidentally, the Friends are worth donations beyond membership. They do great things to help push forward major projects, including proposed overpasses as streets such as Mission Ave.

Join group maintaining South Hill bluff trails

TRAILS — With more than 23 miles of trails to maintain on the South Hill bluff trail system below High Drive, a group is organizing to do the job right.

Join them Saturday, 9 a.m.-noon, for a practical clinic on how to protect trails from erosion.

The group will work on an intersection that is eroding back to its “natural” angle of slope.

Mike Brixey will teach how to deal with these situations, which are common on the bluff trails.

Meet at the High Drive trailhead 20 yards south of Bernard. Wear work gear and bring sturdy tools!

Hikers and mountain bikers are all welcome to participate.

Info:  Diana Roberts 477-2167, Email: robertsd@wsu.edu

Trails: Blue Mountains snow gone; blowdowns not cleared

HIKING — A Tuesday report from the Blue Mountains indicates that the snow is gone in “most” of the critical areas, but Umatilla National Forest crews are just completing their work to clear roads and now they're starting to getting out to clear trails.

Here's the report from John and Diane Latta of Spokane after they hiked the trail to Oregon Butte:

“Great views from the lookout and other points along the trail.  You can see the Seven Devils, Wallowas and Elkhorn Ridge.
“The road is logged out all the way to the very nice Teepee Treailhead.  The recent big fires have not affected the area in the slightest.  We did find probably 100 blowdowns blocking the trail, many in large groups. We managed to find our way around, over and under them to make it back. 
“The old trail over West Butte avoids some of the worst blowdowns, but there are still plenty to contend with to get to the Lookout.  The camping sites near Oregon Butte Spring are covered with blowdowns as well.
“Only minimal patches of snow in the woods that will probably melt in the next few days.”
A Northwest Forest Pass or federal equivalent is required on vehicles parking at trailheads in the Umatilla NF. 

Mount Spokane trail project volunteers needed

STATE PARKS — After years of effort and the approval of a park master plan, the coast is clear for organized volunteer groups to work with park managers to re-route and improve the multi-use trail system at Mount Spokane State Park.

And the're wasting little time.

The snow has barely cleared from the slopes, yet the Spokane Mountaineers are organizing a work party on Thursday.

Read on for the scoop on that effort from organizer Holly Weiller, plus two other alternatives for volunteers who'd like to join the group this weekend and next week

Columia Gorge wets your whistle for waterfalls

HIKING — There's nothing like the lure of a waterfall to coax a hiker out on the trail in the heat of summer.

Certainly we have a few good waterfalls in the Inland Northwest.

But we are the bush league of waterfalls compared with the Cascades.

Terry Richard, outdoors writer for the Oregonian, says Oregon's Cascades have the best concentration, but he gives high marks to the Columbia River Gorge area and Southern Washington Cascades destinations such as Falls Creek, Rodney Waterfall in Beacon Rock State Park and Lower, Upper and Middle Falls on the Lewis River.

Read his story here.

Park plea: Don’t pee along trails

HIKING — Olympic National Park hikers who urinate along trails may be creating linear “salt licks” that attract mountain goats. The practice may be partially responsible for luring in goats that have been harassing and even killing park visitors.

Sounds like a troublesome new pack it in, pack it out policy — but there's reason for complying with the park's request to avoid peeing along trails as much as possible.

Read on for more from the Peninsula News.

Getting higher hiking in North Idaho

TRAILS — Here's the view David Braun recently caught from the top of North Chilco Peak, a nice 4-mile round-trip hike in North Idaho east of Athol.

Centennial Trail has new Maringo Drive trailhead

TRAILS — A new 12-vehicle parking lot and trailhead for the Spokane River Centennial Trail officially opens today east of Argonne Road at the end of Maringo Drive.

See map.

The new facilities were built by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, with the support of the Friends of the Centennial Trail, Washington State Park Foundation and Inland Empire Paper Co.

This much-needed parking lot will enable trail users to avoid parking in a residential area. The Maringo Trailhead already included restroom facilities and a drinking fountain.

Trail building clinic offered by expert tonight on South Hill

SOUT HILL BLUFF TRAILS — Hikers and bikers can learn the theory and application of effective trail building and trail maintenance in a free clinic TONIGHT on the South Hill.

Mike Brixey, who's trained with the International Mountain Bike Association, will make the presentation starting at 6 p.m. at Polly Judd Park, 1732 W. 14th Ave.

The South Hill bluff trail system also will be discussed, and a volunteer trail maintenance group may be organized.

Bring a folding chair and, if you wish, a picnic dinner.

Small children and dogs are discouraged.

A follow-up practical trail building session will be scheduled next week on the bluff trails below High Drive.

Info: Diana Roberts, WSU Spokane County Extension, (509) 477-2167, email robertsd@wsu.edu.