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Lamberson Spur loop, return via Bluegrass Ridge

Posted: June 30th, 2019, 1:26 pm
by Chip Down
From the popular Elk Meadows trail, I headed up Lamberson Spur trail, which I found completely unremarkable, except for the sound of a big heavy animal crashing through the woods very close to me. In the dark, I could only hope it was departing, not approaching. Arrived at the well-documented clearing/landing just barely past sunrise. By then, it was already washed out and pale. I was disappointed that I missed the show, but that's okay. Followed the ridge and entered the burn zone, which was miserable. I knew it would be, but this was worse than I imagined. It must have been right around freezing, because I had to contend with slippery frosty log crossing, but I was also getting wet from dew. The new growth made it hard to see my feet, so I had to be super careful. There's almost no elevation gain through this zone. I reached the spot where the route veers left and ascends, and soon I was in open forest. Ahh, felt so good to be able to walk normally again. I never spotted the trail again, and I questioned if I was even on route, but finally the ridgecrest narrowed, and I knew I was where I belonged. Also, I finally had views of the mountain, straight up Cooper Spur. When I hit the spires, I knew I needed to bypass them on the left, staying as high as possible, gaining the ridgerest and departing the ridgecrest over and over. Eventually the rocky part of the ridgecrest yielded to trees, so I dropped and started over towards Lamberson Butte.

I deliberately stayed low, partly to explore new terrain, partly because I was wearing trail boots and no traction. From the spur, Lamberson Butte looked so far away, but I know how far it is by trail, so I knew it couldn't be too bad. My route zigged and zagged more than expected. I encountered some surprisingly rugged ridges (one was absolutely cliffy on the far side; I couldn't drop in), and some of the snowy gullies were best avoided. I never really regretted not wearing sturdier boots or bringing spikes. I pretty much managed to find easy workarounds. As I grew closer to the butte, I scrapped my plan to stay low until I ran into the trail. I was enjoying this semi-alpine scenery too much. Well, surprise, I didn't even realize I was so high or so far south, but I popped over a little crest and found myself at the 6900' viewpoint on the timberline trail, just before it turns and follows Gnarl Ridge/Newton Canyon east to Lamberson Butte. The trail was completely bare here, which surprised me. I'm sure it must be buried just a little higher, up towards Cooper Spur. That viewpoint is an amazing place, but I didn't stay long, as it was slightly cool/breezy, and I've been there a few times before. Started down the trail to Lamberson Butte, but almost immediately came to my senses and realized there's a snowy gully just to the left, so got over there and dropped twice as fast with half the effort. Was thinking I'd drop until I ran out of snow and then cut over to the trail, but was dropping into the Cold Spring Creek drainage (north fork), so cut back south and grabbed the trail. I had lost 700' in about 20 minutes, going from an alpine zone to a pleasant stroll through the woods.

Coming down from Lamberson Butte, I bypassed the trail that cuts over to Newton Creek, and continued descending the Gnarl Ridge trail, which was now new to me. Passed the cutoff to Elk Meadows, then continued straight and crossed over Elk Meadows Trail, and began my ascent up Elk Mountain to Blue Grass Ridge. The trail was overgrown, steep, I was getting warm, sweat was pouring, but I was feeling good. Because the trail was so overgrown, I worried I might miss the spur trail to the summit. I consulted map to check elevations, trail directions, terrain, any clues to help me watch for the trail. That's when I noticed the main trail actually passes over the top, and the spur trail drops just slightly, presumably to a viewpoint. Just a couple minutes later I topped out, and found the summit to be broad and forested, as I thought it would be, but there's a big swath of beargrass. Even though there are no views, it's a nice place. Continued just a little faurther [that was a typo, but I like it] to the spur trail, and found it very well marked, can't miss it. Followed it down along the edge of a burn zone, and ended at a rather disappointing viewpoint. Noticed remnants of a foundation/anchors, which I wasn't expecting.

BLUEGRASS RIDGE (aka Five Miles of Hell)
After my only real break of the day, I backtracked to the Bluegrass Ridge trail, where a sign informed me I had 5 miles to the end, where it met Elk Meadows Trail just a quarter mile from the bottom of Lamberson Spur trail, thus completing my loop. Along the way I had a chance to abort and drop on a trail to Elk Meadows, if I found Blugrass Ridge to be a boring viewless trail, but I didn't expect that. It actually exceeded my expectations. The views of Hood were stunning, although always interrupted by silver snags (there's scarcely an unburned tree to be found). It was slow going, but tolerable. At the cutoff down to Elk Meadows, the ridge trail abruptly ended, but I persisted towards a little unburned section, and very soon picked up the trail again. There were cairns, but I don't know why. The ridgecrest is crisp; one can't get lost. Long story short, I undulated through beautiful terrain, sometimes a little rugged, staying on crest even when the trail bypassed steeper sections. Because this trail is on crest for so long, the view of the mountain kept changing, until finally I could see the high reaches of Eliot Glacier. Along the way, thunder was rumbling, and a few heavy drops fell, but so far just threats. Then a horrible thing happened: I entered a zone of new growth. I lost the trail, and the bushwhacking was horrible. Maybe I should have turned back here. It would have been maybe an hour of fun hiking to backtrack to the Elk meadows cutoff trail. But I persisted. Ran into the trail when I dropped off crest to follow a clearing, and things got better. It was a brutal "trail" though, severely overgrown, and with countless downed trees to go over/under. After what seemed an eternity, but my pic timestamps say was just an hour (lies!), I very abruptly came to the end of the regrowth. I was on an actual trail again, sometimes faint, sometimes brushy, littered with fallen trees, but much much better. Well, I eventually lost the trail when the ridgecrest broadened, and the slope was absolutely covered with downed trees. I gave up and just followed my gut. Then the rain started. I found a tree for shelter and tried to wait it out, but it was stubborn. As I was waiting, I checked to see if I had phone service. Yep. Checked my location. Not that far off trail actually, so that's good. Bad thing is, I was west of trail, but thought I was east. Wow, that could have gotten ugly. I knew my phone connection was a fluke, so I took this opportunity to examine the map. Looked like if I went magnetic north I should stay close to ridge crest and eventually cross the trail (it's such a great luxury when your intended direction just happens to be magnetic north or south). So that's what I did. It felt totally wrong, but I trusted my instruments instead of my gut. Checked my position once more along the way (with rain and low battery, I wasn't inclined to keep my eyes glued to my phone) and got confirmation I was going the right way. Reached the trail and instantly felt huge relief. Wanted to backtrack to see where I lost the trail, but I already sensed I was going to be pretty miserable at the TH, so kept down. In retrospect, maybe instead of taking a compass bearing down the crest, I should have taken the shortest route to the trail. It would have involved some climbing, but my reward would have been an easier on-trail descent, and an opportunity to backtrack to where I lost the trail. Anyway, back on trail, and it was in really good shape now, I was feeling confident. I knew the trail would leave the crest and drop west to Coldspring Creek just above Tamanawas Falls. When I hit the creek, my heart sank. No way across. Tried up and down, but both directions took me to steep banks. Trapped! My only hope was to climb back up to ridgecrest and follow the crest down and east towards Hwy 35, where I'd pick up the East Fork Trail and follow it north all the way to Pollalie. With a little luck I might even be able to find an abandoned road that angles down Bluegrass Ridge (never been, but it's mapped). So I hustled up the trail, back to ridgecrest, and looked around for possible XC routes. I saw something that seemed too good to be true. To the east, a log with an opening cut in it, about the width to allow passage for hikers. A trail? There was no clear junction at Bluegrass, no clear trail connecting Bluegrass to that log, but I hoped for a miracle. Sure enough, I passed through that gap in the log and found a trail headed down and eastish. I surmised it had to go the old road. It did, right to the end of the road. The road was a bit overgrown in a few spots, but very easy to follow. I reached a fork, and was tempted to take the northbound route that would take me closer to my goal, but I knew it was a deadend, knew it would require luck/skill to get from road end down to the East Fork Trail. So instead I took the southbound fork, dropping gently (too gently). When I decided I was low enough to take a chance, I left the road and headed east until I saw the East Fork Trail. I saw a campsite across the river, so I think I must have been across from Sherwood. The hike back to Polallie was horrible. Up, down, up, down, highway noise, damp, sore wet feet.

[edit: wow, sorry about the wall of text, I resolve to stop doing that, but I'm not going to go back and redo this one]

Re: Lamberson Spur loop, return via Bluegrass Ridge

Posted: July 3rd, 2019, 7:44 am
by bobcat
Epic. A few years ago, I did the Lamberson Loop and Bluegrass Ridge on separate excursions. After Bluegrass, I was convinced no individual in their right mind would attempt the two together although it might be tempting. From your description, nothing has changed, but happy to see it's all still (barely) manageable. Your bailout at the north end of Bluegrass is interesting, but it makes sense (I see the road on the map). There used to be two trees across Coldspring Creek. You could use the top one as a railing. This time of year it runs deep and very cold, so I assume it was not a viable ford.

Re: Lamberson Spur loop, return via Bluegrass Ridge

Posted: July 3rd, 2019, 4:30 pm
by Chip Down
Hey Bobcat, glad you saw this. I read your fieldguide entry on Lamberson Spur before I went, but not the one you wrote for Bluegrass.
bobcat wrote:
July 3rd, 2019, 7:44 am
Epic. A few years ago, I did the Lamberson Loop and Bluegrass Ridge on separate excursions. After Bluegrass, I was convinced no individual in their right mind would attempt the two together although it might be tempting.
They don't call me Batshit Chip for nothing! :lol:
bobcat wrote:
July 3rd, 2019, 7:44 am
There used to be two trees across Coldspring Creek. You could use the top one as a railing. This time of year it runs deep and very cold, so I assume it was not a viable ford.
A few logs across, but small and barkless and wet. No handrail log. Fording might be possible, but it was pretty deep and swift. Pretty risky.

Re: Lamberson Spur loop, return via Bluegrass Ridge

Posted: July 6th, 2019, 9:53 pm
by Chip Down
I figured I'd get back to Bluegrass Ridge again, but I didn't imagine it would be a week later. My original plan was to go up the Lamberson Spur trail to the abandoned road, turn right, follow it to end, then maybe explore up Polallie Creek / Sand Canyon to Timberline Trail, back down via Elk Meadow. The road was a mess, hard to follow, and soon I felt like I was on my own (there might as well have been no road). I turned back, returned to Lamberson Spur trail, tried the road the other direction, more of the same, turned back. I went down to Tamanawas Falls, and from there I thought I'd get up to the lip of the falls. Nope, really cliffy. So back up on the trail, back to the Lamberson Spur junction, then a little further until the Bluegrass junction. Down the trail, until I was at Cold Spring Creek, across from where I was stumped last time. This time I spotted something I missed before: bridge footings. Bridge is long gone.

I tried to follow Cold Spring Creek down to the top of Tamanawas Falls, but it was steep and brushy. I think I saw the lip of the falls below me, but not sure.

When I returned to the spot where Blue Ridge Trail crosses Cold Spring Creek, I didn't climb back up on the trail. Instead I followed the creek up, knowing I'd run into Elk Meadows Trail where it crosses Cold Spring Creek. But I grew tired of following the creek, and went in search of Elk Meadows Trail. I got lucky and found it promptly, and followed it until it crossed the creek. But no bridge! I could ford, or cross a barkless log. If I fell off the log I wouldn't die (less dangerous than the Bluegrass crossing below), but I didn't like the looks of it, so continued up the west bank of Cold Spring Creek. Every time I crossed a little tributary, I knew the main creek was just that much smaller. Eventually I found a safe crossing, and continued to Elk Meadow. Boring trail. And Elk Meadows doesn't have much going for it.

Next, I wanted to ascend the trail to the crest of Bluegrass ridge. Wow, what a mess. I found my own way, mostly waking on fallen logs that kept me out of the brush. I arrived on ridge crest almost exactly at the junction.

Well, what now? The best way back to my car was descending Bluegrass ridge, again. It went really well, after my last-weekend experience. I learned a lot of lessons. For example, my time through the brush-hell zone was....hmm....I have no idea, because my time/elevation notes are on a piece of paper that I've lost. Oh well. Anyway, when I took the connector trail to the old road and followed it down, this time I took the brushy dead-end north branch of the road, and then bushwhacked to the East Fork Trail. It was pretty sketchy, but I pulled it off, much shorter than last weekend's conservative/safe route.

When I dropped onto to East Fork Trail, it was super crowded with the flipflop crowd, but I had my earbuds in, pretended they weren't there, chugged my last beer, started running north up the trail to Polallie, not because I was in a hurry, just for the joy of it, like a boy running in the park, at the beach, at the State Fair 1978, sweat dripping in my eyes but I didn't care.

Almost forgot to mention this, but found a reminder in my pocket. I ran across a wilderness permit on Bluegrass Ridge. It was dated 7/5. Wow. Nobody ever hikes this route, right? How odd that somebody was here just a day before me, and dropped his wilderness permit for me to find.

Re: Lamberson Spur loop, return via Bluegrass Ridge

Posted: July 7th, 2019, 3:09 am
by mjirving
Quite the adventure...dang. My favorite part is the beer chug and the state fair reference. :lol:

I also appreciate that you carry the extra weight of a glass for your beer as that’s the proper way to drink it. (Am Incorrect in my assumption?)