Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

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Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

Post by bobcat » October 9th, 2020, 11:43 am

The obscure and historic Pine Way Trail begins just inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on the boundary with the Yakama Nation and runs a gentle course of about 2 ½ miles through rolling terrain to meet the Snipes Mountain Trail at the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed. Driving down from Bird Creek Meadows on the 1st October, I stopped at the trailhead and found the trailhead signpost lying next to a tree. This inevitably invited exploration, so I returned this week to see if I could follow the route, knowing it was unmaintained and had been thoroughly scorched by three recent and intense burns: the 2008 Cold Springs Fire, the 2012 Cascade Creek Fire, and the 2015 Cougar Complex Fire.

I actually began at the Snipes Mountain Trailhead instead of the Pine Way Trailhead since I am unsure whether you can cross Yakama land to reach the latter outside of the Yakama “tourist” season. (A No Trespassing sign at the Yakama boundary tells you to proceed no farther after the public access period ends.)

Parking, Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg
New trailhead sign, Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg

There’s a new trailhead sign for the Snipes Mountain Trail, which runs up the eastern edge of the Aiken Lava Bed parallel with Gotchen Creek, which has no surface water this time of year. Since the fires, the lava bed itself is much more visible from the trail, with the landscape comprised of “black snag” bunchgrass savanna and a few recovering colonies of aspen. It was interesting to note that most of the conifers on top of the lava remain unburned. The trail itself gets lost in a couple of places due to downed trees and lack of use.

Aspen grove, Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg
Scarlet gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata), Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg
Ponderosas on the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed, Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg
Mt. Adams from the Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg
Edge of the A.G. Aiken Lava Bed, Snipes Mountain Trail.jpg

When I got to the junction with the Pine Way Trail #71, about 2 ¾ miles up from the trailhead, I began heading east. The entire landscape is carpeted with mountain bunchgrass (fescue), in places dotted with clumps of rabbitbrush goldenweed and rustling stands of young aspen in the damp spots. The bunchgrass is what attracted sheepmen here in the 1880s , when these slopes supported a lightly forested ponderosa pine parkland which experienced fairly frequent ground fire. The Pine Way Trail was one of the original stock trails in the area, splitting off from a trail that led directly up to Bird Creek Meadows and leading up to Gotchen Creek. It even appears on a 1905 topo map. Decades of government-mandated fire suppression severely altered the landscape, however, with Douglas-fir and grand fir filling in the bunchgrass meadows and providing a dense canopy, so – voilà – the inevitable happened and we were landed with the great fires of the 21st century.

Sign at junction, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Bunchgrass slopes, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Rabbitbrush goldenweed, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Snipes Mountain from the Pine Way Trail.jpg
Baby ponderosas, Pine Way Trail.jpg

There are white diamonds on the black snags that mark the route, but the trail is often obscure as it meanders through the grasslands with plenty of downed snags to step over or hike around. There were a few small ponderosas coming up here and there, the only green in the landscape. I lost the trail on a wide bench above Snipes Mountain, circling almost 270 degrees to pick it up again, realizing then that it had made a 90-degree turn. I found the old sign on a fallen snag that had warned hikers of the change in course. (Actually, there are no hikers, no sign of any human passage whatsoever.)

White diamond, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Snag at the 90-degree turn, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Trail sign at 90-degree turn, Pine Way Trail.jpg

From the bench, I descended a trail that was often deeply gullied and began to pick up the tracks and aroma of cattle. Soon the trail merged with an old jeep track and a very well-used, well-defined cattle trail that led out to the trailhead on the Yakama boundary. In this area, the snags are taller and there are patches of unburned canopy nearby. There’s already a dense understory of grand fir saplings that will no doubt supply nice tinder for the next conflagration unless they are aggressively thinned.

Downed ponderosa, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Cattle driveway, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Sign at Pine Way Trailhead, Pine Way Trail.jpg
Across from Pine Way Trailhead, Pine Way Trail.jpg

The cattle concession here runs across several jurisdictions, including national forest, Yakama Nation, and Washington DNR. The permit is for about 500 head, and this time of year, they are concentrated near the dwindling water resources, so I didn’t see any cows on the trail. In the early 20th century, rangeland wars erupted between the sheep men and the cattle men, the territorial dispute resulting in victory for the latter. The king in these parts was one Ben Snipes, who made a fortune supplying beef from his Washington grazing ranges to the gold operations along the Fraser River in British Columbia. Massive cattle drives, managed by dozens of cowboys, moved up through the state from these southern lands, and one can imagine the constant lowing, the clouds of dust, the odor of manure, and the camaraderie around night time camp fires. The Pine Way Trail is, after all, a trail more of the imagination these days, a route to a time when a “trail” was created by the passage of many hooves all headed to the best feed and water.

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Re: Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

Post by Chip Down » October 9th, 2020, 12:24 pm

Fun! I love old trails like this, rich with history and sparse with visitors.

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Re: Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

Post by drm » October 10th, 2020, 9:21 am

I heard a report that Snipes had hundreds of trees down, but I think you would have mentioned that if so. Since Snipes is south-facing and not shaded, it is the first one to melt out, it actually gets moderate use early in season. And since it is not in wilderness, the trail team gets in their first with the early snow melt.

On the other hand, Pineway gets almost none as it doesn't reach up to alpine areas and has it's trailhead orphaned in FS land surrounded by Yakama land. I bet it was used intensively prior to the 1970s handover by people who wanted to avoid a bit of uphill. I skied it once.

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Re: Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

Post by bobcat » October 10th, 2020, 2:37 pm

Snipes was logged out this year. There's a little recent windfall, but it's not bad (at least on the lower half where I was).

There hasn't been any trail work on Pine Way in many, many years . . .

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Re: Pine Way Trail #71 (Mt. Adams) 10-7-20

Post by querulous » October 10th, 2020, 3:39 pm

Thanks for a historically and biogeographically informed writeup.
Forget about thinning out grand fir. You want a pondo pine parkland again, stop suppressing fires and restore the aboriginal burning regime. I'd be in favor.

Regarding trees surviving fire up on the Aikens flow, I think this is a widespread phenomenon. I have walked the three-mile long lava flow below west crater (just S of Trapper Creek) and it has pockets of very old-looking trees. I think all that bare rock offers some protection. Ditto the Muddy Fork flow on the north side of Adams.

The Cave flows on the S side of St Helens are different, I'm pretty sure they got burned over during the Yacolt burn era. But that is a much more vegetated flow. Much smoother lava. pahoehoe vs aa, I think it is. The bouldery surface of aa flows makes vegetation establishment much more difficult.

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