two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

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Chip Down
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two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by Chip Down » May 12th, 2020, 8:51 am

two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Stuck at home waiting for a delivery, killing time. I know, I'll write a long droning TR. Haven't posted a real TR since March. Here's something semi-current.

Skamania County had just shut down all hiking, including off trail, with threats of incarceration. Sure, I considered sneaking in, but decided to take the same approach I did with the Eagle Creek fire: It will be waiting for me. Be patient. So I opened up Google Maps with the county border displayed, and looked for alternatives.

I imposed a few rules:
Stay close to home.
Drive straight through, no stopping.
Don't park at or near a trailhead.
Don't hike on a trail.
Don't tell anybody. Not at first, anyway. I didn't want to give away my secret spots, nor did I want to be an enticer.

Poring over the map, I saw a high point slightly southwest of Silver Star. Looked promising. Lots of OHV trails though. But it was too snowy to support that crowd, so I figured I could get some solitude. My plan was to drive until I hit snow, and then start walking.

On my drive up the gravel road, I passed an "area closed" sign at a Y junction. The road going the other direction was gated, so I told myself I should still be okay on the main road. I saw more signs, but they seemed unrelated to covid (private property, this trail closed, stuff like that). I drove until my undercarriage was scraping the snow, then backed down and found a safe place to park. I climbed to a high point and surveyed my surroundings as the sun rose. The clouds were clearing fast, and a distant mountain I had assumed to be Adams turned out to be Hood. Looking up in the direction my road would have taken me, I saw open snowy slopes that I assumed to be the OHV playground I had wanted to start at. Looked impossibly far away. Later, from a higher closer vantage, I realized it was Silver Star.

Back down to my car, with intention of walking up the road, but got lucky and spotted signs of an abandoned OHV trail. I checked it out, and confirmed it was hikable. Slightly overgrown and snowy, but a lot more fun than trudging up the road. I managed to link up a series of faint roads and trails, generally managing to avoid the primary roads.

Surveying the terrain and looking at the map, I picked out a ridge with a dramatic rocky outcropping, and in the distance, separated by a saddle, a peak hosting radio towers. That seemed like a good initial goal to get the day started.

The ridge was fun, with a few minor routefinding "opportunities", some unfruitful bushwhacking, and some great scenic rocky spots. There was a snow-covered puddle that I plunged into, so my feet were cold and wet just an hour into the day, but that was coming anyway, so this just put me ahead of schedule. As I started to approach the drop into the saddle, it looked like it might be too steep to downclimb, but when I arrived I realized it was an illusion, I don't think I even needed my hands.

At the saddle, I decided to utilize roads/trails as much as possible on my ascent to the towers. I wasn't sure where they would take me, but I kept going, taking what seemed to be the best branches. The snow was getting pretty deep, but I knew it couldn't be much farther. By the time I saw the towers through the trees, I was postholing miserably, but it was just another 1/4 mile, so I kept at it. At the top, there was a comical barbed-wire fence to keep me away from the installation. It was probably 6' or 8' high without snow, but I stepped over it to get a better look at things. I stayed far away from anything that could pelt me with falling ice (it was coming down fast in the warm noonish sun).

Somewhere on the ascent, I dawned on me this had to be Larch Mountain. I had planned to do more exploring, maybe even as far as Grouse Vista, but the postholing had taken a lot out of me, so I made a quick loop, followed an OHV trail down for a bit, then headed XC back towards the saddle. It was fun at first, but I ended up in a brushy labyrinth, getting pelted with slushbombs, so I veered a bit to get back on my ascent road.

I arrived back at my car at a bad time, just as a DNR cop was driving by. He admonished me for being in the covid-closed area. I told him I had deliberately stayed west of Skamania. He said it doesn't matter what route I took to get in, it's still closed. I didn't see the logic in that, but didn't argue. He told me the entire state is closed: DNR, USFS, parks, etc. I honestly didn't know, had heard only about Skamania.

Having been caught on my first attempted stealth hike, I didn't want to run the risk of another encounter with DNR police (aside: I had never even heard of a WA DNR Police force), so I decided to lay low until it was legal.

Day two was about five weeks later. I realized I must have missed a turnoff when I found myself on a long straight level section of road that reminded me of the drive to Grouse Vista. Sure enough, I later saw an unmistakable junction. Rather than turning back, I continued to Grouse and followed Tarbell trail away from Silver Star. I was disappointed there was no snow, but soon there was a patch, and more, and pretty soon bare ground was scarce. Finding my way to the top of Larch was fun. A plethora of trails, some marked, some hard to find in the snow. I was in no hurry, so explored every possibility. There were some Aha! moments when I would return to a junction from a different direction, gradually building my cognitive map of how this all fit together. Finally at the top, I was surprised to find it bare. Also surprised to encounter a couple hikers, the only pedestrians I saw on both days.

I spotted a road I had previously overlooked when snowy. Followed it down, down, down, into Cold Creek valley I guess, until it dumped into a navigable road near a junction with Tarbell Trail. It was only a little more than 1000' of descent, but that feels like a lot when you're exploring blind. There was a bicyclist there, one of only two I saw both days.

I could have returned on Tarbell Trail, but there were some question marks on my descent road, so I returned that way. Spotted what looked like a trail, and followed it. Not surprisingly, it connected to Tarbell. Apparently a bike trail. It was damn steep. A descent on bike would best be described as a controlled fall. Back on Tarbell, I continued to a talus slope, my turnaround point earlier when I was exploring my way up Larch. I popped over a ridge and found the talus zone was the same one my descent road was carved through. I wasn't shocked at that, but was shocked at how close I came to Tarbell on my descent road.

Back on known terrain, I poked around here and there, back to the top of Larch, down a OHV trail which I thought would take me to my day-one ridge saddle, but I ended up somewhere else, which was fun (semi lost, in a good way), back up Larch on another OHV trail, much snowier than the parallel trail.

The final descent from Larch to Grouse was a combo of XC following snowy patches along Grouse Creek, mixed with closed unmapped OHV trails.

Considering what an easy objective Larch Mountain is, I managed to squeeze quite a bit of adventure out of it, mostly due to snow, but also partly due to the abundance of mystery roads/trails that were fun to explore. There are a few questions left, but I pretty much nook-n-crannied that mountain, so not sure I'll go back. Maybe next winter when snow returns and the bike/OHV crowds thin out. On my two trips, I discovered that deep fresh snow and weekdays do little to deter the shoot-n-pollute folks, even early in the morning. I bet Larch Mountain is miserably loud and crowded on weekends when the snow is gone.

First 5 pics from day one, second set of 5 pics from day two.
Looking over at Silver Star.
There was fresh snow on everything, so this must have been fresh.
The original Narwhal label art returns for BA cans.
Elaborate new bridge over tiny Grouse Creek, Tarbell Trail.
Picnic table?! Must have been a road here once. Great viewpoint to examine Silver Star (would be a better pic in afternoon). I was surprised to see SS nearly bare.
Trail signs should not be made of particleboard, OSB, or other "engineered" wood products.
Mystery trench near top of Larch. Didn't seem to be for drainage or to block vehicles.
Beargrass meadow near top of Larch.

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Re: two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by BigBear » May 12th, 2020, 1:31 pm

Always can count on you giving law enforcement officials something to do. :)

Although I do not believe we should sit shoulder-to-shoulder anywhere I do find the entire stay-at-home rule foolish, excessive and frankly, a violation of the constitution's First Amendment (right to assembly) and an utter disregard for the Commerce Clause (right to contract, conduct business and seek employment). But what do you do, we have dictators for leaders and the gustapo is out there to enforce every bad rule with a complete ignorance for the constitution (int he old normal, it would be capitalized, but now its just an old piece of paper).

Even with all that said, I don't push the rules because I hike to relax. Explaining the law to ignorant rangers, etc. just isn't my idea of relaxation. Especially when they are misguided by the belief that their dictator bosses are the supreme rulers and actual laws don't really mean anything.

Now, I've tried very hard not to let my personal opinions get in the way of acknowledging Chip Down's recent venture into what we once though were public lands. (okay, not very hard at all) You have to remember, golfing is okay because you pay some rich guy for the pleasure of walking around and standing next to your buddies at each tee. You should know that walking in the forest alone or strolling on the beach alone or having half of a tennis court to yourself is forbidden because you are actually distancing yourself from others by more than 6 feet and you have not paid anyone for the experience. If you don't pay, you can't do it. That's the way the law works.

So let's all remember. If you hand someone your credit card to recreate, it's legal. If you go to some remote location without opening your wallet, your in violation of the dictator's directive.

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retired jerry
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Re: two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by retired jerry » May 12th, 2020, 1:38 pm

stay at home was implemented after people were mingling in crowds

after stay at home implemented crowds reduced - stay at home was a good policy - probably saved a bunch of lives and stopped the growth of the infection

I don't think law enforcement cares about people that are social distancing. A forest ranger passed me and just waved.

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Re: two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by Bosterson » May 12th, 2020, 2:49 pm

<steering conversation away from political griping and towards beer>

No White Claw this time, Chip? ;)

I saw those cans at a shop and though, odd, 1.3x the liquid for 2x the price? But it's the BA variant, because everyone is giving up glass? Seems like a fine choice of hiking beer, though regular Narwhal slays most other imperial stouts, so the BA part is kind of superfluous. How long did it take you to warm it up to a proper drinking temperature after putting it in the snow? ;)
#pnw #bestlife #bitingflies #favoriteyellowcap #neverdispleased

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Chip Down
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Re: two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by Chip Down » May 12th, 2020, 3:50 pm

BigBear wrote:
May 12th, 2020, 1:31 pm
Always can count on you giving law enforcement officials something to do. :)
Yeah, I actually have another encounter to post about.

Jerry, I guess you got lucky. Or maybe my out of-state plates had something to do with it.

Bosterson, my retailer had 12oz glass Narwhal next to 16oz BA cans, at the same price! Not a hard decision. But yeah, I agree, the regular Narwhal is pretty darn good. BTW, never had White Claw.

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Re: two days on Washington's Larch Mountain

Post by bobcat » May 13th, 2020, 6:50 pm

That is a stellar mole shot!

As for Forest Service signage, they experimented with many options. They found, for example, that plywood was not a good idea because porcupines love the glue. There used to be a "sign museum" of sorts not far from Little Boulder Lake, where all these iterations of signs had been hung on trees by a creative ranger. I tried to find it once, but the area had been clearcut.

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