Yakima Skyline & Umtanum Falls

 

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Walking near the “summit” of the Yakima Skyline

2 people, 4 knees, 3 MCLs. This trek was deemed Operation DUSTAFUBK, short for Drive Until Sunny and Try to Avoid Fucking Up Brad’s Knee. The B is silent. Brad tore his MCL skiing a few weeks ago, but was going too stir crazy to care, so we found ourselves at the Eastgate Park n Ride at 6am on Saturday. Originally Surafel was joining us, but we received a 3am message that he was in the ER, and no, this would not be like last time where he got an IV and joined us a few hours later, good as ever.

  • Distance: ~9 miles for Yakima Skyline to Gracie’s point and back, 3 miles for Umtanum Falls
  • Elevation gain: ~2700 between the two hikes
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:45 with no traffic
  • Did I Trip: On Yakima Skyline, no. But Umtanum Falls made up for my graceful past few months with 1.67*10^198 trips, slips, skateboard slides, wipeouts, and assplants.
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Another hiking party ahead of us

We started driving. I made Brad drive because I’m an asshole my car either has a gas leak, or is a liar and the broken gas gauge is making the check engine light turn on.* The car was packed for just about every mountain activity, we pulled up a few options and figured we’d drive until the weather was acceptable. The pass was 48 and rainy. Ew. Keep driving. Cle Elum was fake sunny where the weather says sunny but actually it’s overcast and hazy. Keep driving. Wait, stop at the only gas station with no snacks in the entirety of Cle Elum first and use the slowest gas pump known to man. Okay, now stop at a gas station with snacks and a faster gas pump. Okay now keep driving. No snow left? Okay, so I guess we’ll just hike. To Yakima!

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Brad with Yakima in the background

The last time I hiked out by Yakima I was amazed at the sun and the air smelling like sage and the rolling yellow hills. Well, the sage is all dead, so that sucks, but the sky was still blue and the hills were still rolling and yellow and it was around 60 degrees, so it basically felt like May. We chose Yakima Ridge, a mellow hike that is host to a 50k race in early spring, and wow I can see why.

The trail gains elevation slowly but steadily up to the “summit” about two miles in, where you can drop down behind the ridge to continue on to Gracie’s Point. The trail splits around 3 miles in and you can either follow it to a 4×4 road (supposedly, didn’t look like much of a road to us) that wraps a bit west and tours the grassy knolls, or you can stay right which keeps you closer to the ridge. Instead of heading straight up Gracie’s Point the trail wraps around to the north side before following a series of fence poles to the top, where we took a long break to destroy some Wisconsin cheese curds and summer sausage and (in my case) excessive amounts of peanut butter.
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Looking behind us

We had taken the 4×4 road up, so we took the ridge trail back. Rainier and Adams looked incredible when we started hiking, but Adams was slowly swallowed by low clouds rising to meet a growing lenticular, and Rainier was gradually engulfed in dark mist and an angry wall of weather. Sweet, keep reaffirming that we made the right choice. We took a short break at the car to enjoy the sun, and decided what the hell, we’d keep driving to check out one of our other hike ideas.

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Dead sage

Our other hike idea appeared to be on private property. The gate was covered in maps and a sign for Discover passes and a sign reminding everyone to close the gate behind them, but it also had a sign that said “no public access.” So we kept driving. We found a dirt road that I realized would bring us all the way around Umtanum Ridge and back to the north end of Yakima Canyon road, so we took it! And halfway down that road, we found a perfect 2 mile round trip hike to Umtanum Falls. Great idea!!

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Wildlife!! (Photo credit Brad)

Well, the hike was completely iced over, and yours truly had only brought sneakers and mountaineering boots. And I left the boots in the car. So I was in my 2012 running shoes, which it turns out are mediocre at best on ice. So we slipped and slided all along the trail, finding game trails and social trails higher on the slopes to avoid the icy ground next to the river. Longest. Mile. Ever. Luckily everyone else was a dumbass like me and only had sneakers, so I fit right in. We made it to the falls, Brad went around to face the waterfall and I waited at the top. I had expected it to be a hike where you walk up to the bottom of the falls and are staring right at it, but you’re actually at the top looking down on it, with the option of scrambling down to the base. I stood, wiped out while standing, and waited for disasters to happen while Brad and two other hikers checked out the view facing the falls. I think SAR has ruined my invincibility.

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My view of Umtanum Falls

We made it back to the car well before dark without any further wipeouts (I think, if I remember correctly) and finished our rogue lap around Umtanum Ridge. The drive back over the pass was still a gross 48 degrees and pouring rain. I saw I think two people on the Snoqualmie slopes. Props to you guys. I cannot imagine this has been a good year for the ski resorts.

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Brad’s view of the falls (photo credit Brad)

So I have slowly been expanding my list of sunny places, and Yakima Skyline is an easy hike even for wobbly knees if you need an escape. I hear the wildflowers in spring are fantastic too, though we aren’t quite there yet. I’ll have to check our Selah Butte when those flowers finally spring up, though – it’s across the canyon from Yakima Skyline, so instead of staring at those freaking cell towers the whole time you’re under the cell towers and can pretend they don’t exist.

*Check engine light has since turned off so… problem solved? If you ignore your problems they go away right?

Umtanum Ridge Crest & Road

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Cruising through the grass

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Sweet start

After last week’s shortcut, I figured I’d take another shot at a long run, so I messaged a few steady trail runners for suggestions out east knowing the weather everywhere (even in the Teanaways!) was going to be brutal. Yakima looked sunny, and Stuke had a phenomenal suggestion that was a 27ish mile out-and-back taking the Umtanum Ridge Crest trail to the Umtanum Ridge Road, which runs the length of the ridge and despite being a road is more like a wide trail. I thought I had thrown this plan out the window when SMR got busy on Saturday, but after being turned around without even setting foot on the trail, my long run was back in action. Ran 10/22/2017.

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That is a perfectly good burrito

I got to the trailhead around 8:30 and stepped out of the car into wonderful sunshine and what might be the most delicious air I have ever smelled in my life. Everything was covered in dew from that had just stopped, and the entire canyon was full of sage bushes. Sunshine with the smell of fresh rain mixed with tons of sage, I gotta give Yakima a little more credit. It was freaking gorgeous. You know when you start an activity and your entire body just says yeah, this is where I should be right now? It was one of those mornings. I packed my bag with way more food than I ended up needing and started off.

  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Elevation: 2,400ft net gain (3,480 highest point, and around 6k gain on rolling hills)
  • Weather: 50’s and a mix of clouds and sun
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:40 unless everyone crashes in the rain (RAIN) on i90
  • Did I Trip: Some stubbed toes but no casualties
  • Strava link here
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First light post rain

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Dammit Saucony. Maybe #runmostplaces not #runanywhere

The first 2.5 miles gain the 2,400ft of elevation, so needless to say I hiked those.There was no one else in sight. The trail briefly follows Umtanum Creek (you need to duck under some train tracks, or go over but I’m lazy so I went under) before hanging left and starting up through quaking aspen and sagebrush and tall grasses towards the ridge. It was quite muddy, and I found the only flaw in my running shoes that I have encountered so far. With this clay-ish-mud mix, the lugs on my shoes just got caked with mud until I was basically hiking on mud pancakes, slipping all over the place. I’d stop periodically to scrape off the bottoms and delicately tiptoe up the trail.

The last half mile to the top is very steep, and I was less than stoked doing it without shoes that had good mud traction (and poles) but soon enough I topped out at the ridge road. Stuke’s description was accurate. Rolling hills, and a road that’s more like a wide trail than a road. Sweet! I started jogging.
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Totally different topography compared to western Washington

There were two things I had only briefly considered before starting up the trail, because I don’t know much about either group. First was hunters. I had my neon pink hard shell, which is close enough to safety orange that I figured I had that base covered, and hopefully if I was being an idiot someone would tell me. Second was 4×4 teams (who I think were usually also hunting), who I hoped would be okay with me hopping off the road so they could pass, and again tell me if I was doing something stupid. Here’s the confession: I’m basically scared of random 4×4 drivers, and definitely scared of random hunters. Neither of those activities were part of my life, they’re totally foreign to me, and they’re intimidating, and I’m just a hot pink helpless nerd going for a jog.

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Almost at the ridge (not)

So the first two trucks that drove past me freaked me out. And the first hunters I passed freaked me out. But I was pleasantly surprised by everyone I ran into! The hunters were all amicable (one team on foot just laughed and said “good for you!” as I jogged past) and several trucks stopped to ask how far I was going and to flag them down if I needed anything. Everyone was totally fine about sharing the road, in fact I might even go so far as to say that they were more pleasant than a lot of the hikers I encounter on trails, who don’t hear or see you coming, don’t move out of the way, and glare or silently stare ahead when you ask if you can pass.

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Rolling hills!

So you pretty much start at the high point. This was great as I started my jog, because woohoo downhill! I hiked most of the uphills unless they were very slight. Supposedly you can see the Stuart range from the top of the ridge, but all I got were clouds. Oh, and the wind, which occasionally ripped by just to spite me. The road switches between beautiful gravel, nice dirt, and terrible rocks and mud, so you get a nice combo of footwork and space-out-cruising. I fell victim to “summit fever” – not a summit, but around mile 11 I was like okay, I’ll turn around at that high point. And then I was there, and it was 11.5 miles, and I thought no you didn’t drive 2.5 hours just to turn around at 11.5 miles, go for 13. And then I hit 13 and thought okay, that high point (I was going downhill and didn’t want to start my return trip with immediate uphill). And then I could see the road intersection that was the turnaround point from that knoll, and I didn’t come that far just to turn around 300 yards short of the end. So I tagged the intersection and began the long slog back.

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The nicest section of road ever

I didn’t let myself check mileage again until around 19.8 miles. I wanted to be sure I had less than 10 miles left next time I looked (mental games) so I waited forever. The rolling hills were kind to me though, I ran more uphills than I had on the way out and felt pretty good. The final uphill to the trail turnoff was brutal, but not as brutal as the ensuing descent, losing 1,000ft+ per mile, destroying my knees and quads and hips while I counted my steps to distract myself from everything else because I was even tired of the sage at this point.

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Trail leading off into the distance

I jogged across the bridge (surprisingly bouncy) and popped into the parking lot, pretty thrilled with how the day had gone. I had only eaten around 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, and felt fantastic the entire time. I had the perfect amount of water, my new shoes had felt great, and I didn’t have any weird aches or pains. I didn’t even know that was possible. I hopped into my car, mentally on tope of the world, and drove straight into a wall of traffic on i90 because people forget how to drive in the rain. Shit.

Oh, and I found a Hot Pocket that I had lost in my car back in summer of 2015. You read that right. Over 2 years later. Turns out there’s a void beneath the fabric on the floor below my drivers’ seat. I can only imagine the decay had spawned a mold-based life form, because the only reason I found it was because there was this odd crackling noise going on and I was panicking that there was a mouse in my car while driving on the highway. No, just a hot pocket that came to life. I was hoping I had mentioned it in the trip report but I didn’t. But for two years I’ve been assuming that there was a glitch in the matrix that resulted in the loss of some high quality sustenance.
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Sage has yellow flowers 🙂

Ancient Lakes

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With a high wind warning and a potential 15″-17″ of snow over the weekend (according to NOAA), we figured the backcountry was out of the question. Don’t get me wrong, I love some good snow, but I’ve hit a point where I’m not going to spend two days in the wet unless it’s going to have a huge payoff. And I had to work at my office sample sale Saturday morning, so I couldn’t escape until around 2pm anyway. That should be my excuse, instead of admitting I’ve turned fairweather.

Luckily for me, Sam had just gotten a new camera and had been going stir crazy trying to find places to get some night photography for the past week, and he suggested Ancient Lakes. I had never been out there, it’s a long drive, not a technical hike or climb, and I’m lazy unless we can do something awesome. But this weekend, after months of said aforementioned stir crazy, it meant sun, stars, and a whole new section of Washington I had never touched before. I drove through it, once. Literally once. Anyway, here are the Ancient Lakes, several small bowls of chemical-contaminated farm runoff water in some eastern canyons, hiked 3/12/2016. Don’t drink the water!

  • Optional Distance: 12 miles round trip if you do the full loop (we did not)
  • Real Distance: 1 mile. No, we probably went like 1.5 miles out, but it’s like a playground for adults. As much or as little as you choose.
  • Elevation gain: ~900ft for the loop, we probably had similar since we did some scrambling
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny, 40’s and cloudy
  • Did I Trip: No but Sam slipped on a rock. Count it!
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Rolling hills and canyon walls

I took off from Seattle at 2pm on the dot and drove around 3 hours through dead stopped traffic (who closes all four lines on a highway?!), open freeway, sun, rain, wind, snow, and best of all, HAIL. Large marble sized hail. As in the bigger-than-average marbles. Cars were pulling over because once there’s an inch or two of big marbles on the highway, you can’t go 75mph anymore and your windshield might break and did I mention they’re rolling all over the ground while it’s sunny at the same time and why wouldn’t you pull over to gawk at that?! No rainbow, though. I laughed after the brief hailstorm was over (it lasted maybe 5 minutes) because I wondered what I hadn’t driven through yet, and the answer was “a tornado.” Okay, let’s save that for next time.

I did get to play my favorite what-do-you-do-when-you’re-in-the-middle-of-nowhere-in-the-car game, called “scan every radio station and see what the options are.” Past Cle Elum, you have various styles of preaching, an abundance of country music, two pop stations, three Latino stations, and station 100.3 which I can only assume makes all of its money by playing “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics, on loop, 24/7.
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Sam starting off in the meadow

Finding Quincy, WA was easy. Finding the trailhead was not. I mean it would have been if we had looked at WTA directions, but we did not. I was using my TomTom and Sam was using GoogleMaps, and we both ended up on private roads in the middle of some sort of orchard (separate private roads, might I add). After a few too many “NO TRESPASSING” and “PRIVATE PROPERTY, NEW OWNERSHIP” and “CAMERAS FILMING” signs I decided this could not possibly be where the “public fishing area” was. I eventually found Sam just outside the orchard and we managed to find the trailhead. Follow WTA’s instructions, guys. Seriously.

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Another meadow at dusk

The trailhead said things like “no overnight parking” and “no overnight camping.” We said things like “ha!” and started hiking. I forgot how light an overnight pack is when you don’t also have a rope and ice screws and crampons and ice tools and all that junk. Just a meal, water, tent, layers… very pleasant. The sun had set, and we had some evening glow remaining, so I snapped the few pictures I could as we hiked down into the canyon. There were several other parties there, and we eventually scrambled up the opposite side of the canyon to a spot overlooking everyone. There was an awesome rocky outcropping that I hoped would look awesome with stars above it, and a little notch in a cliff across the way with the same idea.

We pitched tents on soft grass (SO much more comfortable than camping on snow and ice), made a small campfire, boiled water for dinner, and ran around taking pics and time lapses with the camera. Or, I ate while Sam took pictures. I forgot to bring an eating utensil and dumped boiling chicken vindaloo all over my face trying to eat it out of the bag. Some things you just never learn.

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Feeding the campfire by our tents (photo credit: Sam)

It was a warm night, but windy, and clouds were in and out. The wind made things a bit complicated. We couldn’t get any good pictures of the notch (okay, maybe the pic above) because the vantage point was too exposed and the wind would blow the tripod just enough to blur things. But Sam got some great ones of our tents, that rocky outcropping, and the number of stars is just incredible. That camera is coming everywhere. I’ll sleep while Sam does the hard work.

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Another lake below the canyon walls

I went to sleep in my cozy sleeping bag with my cozy liner which I haven’t talked much about but I can’t believe I ever camped without a sleeping bag liner. Seriously, if you have room for luxury, get a sleeping bag liner. It’s soft, it’s cozy, if you’re a little wet it wicks away the moisture and I swear you dry off more quickly than when you’re right up against sleeping bag material. I adore it. And supposedly (not convinced) it adds a bit of warmth to your bag. I’m cold all the time, so I’m not sure about that one.

We woke up to full cloud cover. Well, Sam woke up. He told me it was cloudy and I whined about it and dozed for another hour. We had set the clocks ahead okay?! I get my extra hour, this is a casual trip, I don’t need no alpine start. Sam went and scrambled around the area while I kept sleeping. Eventually I got up and we packed up and left. I snapped a few pics on the way out to make sure the trip was adequately documented. All the other groups were making eggs and bacon and fancy things for breakfast and I had leftover twix bites and toasted ritz chips in my car. Don’t get me wrong both of those are delicious, but I mean…. you can do better.

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Sam following the trail past waterfalls

We made it back to the cars, with no tickets for overnight parking or our abject lack of Discovery passes (apparently required for this trailhead). Sweet. We hit the road, dreading the conditions at Snoqualmie. I stopped in Cle Elum for a steak (which I later overcooked – [expletives]) and gas, and interestingly, while it was snowing heavily in Cle Elum, there wasn’t much to worry about at Snoqualmie. The i90 bridge was worse, ugh. Big waves and wind and shaking, weird stuff. I made it back to Seattle, only to find out that minutes later they closed both the i90 bridge and the 520 bridge due to high winds and big waves.

So that’s that. A solid what, 18 hour escape? 24 hours if you include the drive in both directions? Not too shabby! And it feels like an entirely different part of America. Like I was in the middle of a road trip out in Arizona or northern Colorado. A much needed change of scenery.