Part 33: Wenatchee, WA to Mount Rainier, WA


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The Trip

We left the Columbia Confluence State Park in Wenatchee and headed west into the Wenatchee mountains.  The road was steep and climbed quickly from the river grade into the mountains.  The road started out good, but quickly turned gnarly making us wonder about the logic of choosing the route.  At one point, we met a fellow oncoming that told us that the road "got tight and twisty" further up, but we elected to take his comments under advisement given his driving skills.  So, we soldiered on.  And, we found out that we had already been through the "twisty and tight" areas before we encounterd him -- the balance of the trail was better (but not good).

We spent the night in a remote camp near a nice meadow.  Next morning, we continued west, then south.

The Photos

The photos below are what we saw.

We had already encountered narrow roads, tight, multi-point turn switchbacks and low-hanging trees by the time we got high enough on the mountain for a respectable view.  But, the view looking north was really awesome and made us glad that we came (despite the hard road).

In the distance we could see the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Range.

From another view point between the trees we could see the lower, barren hills of the Columbia River valley.

The trail skirted a cliff for miles, but only brief breaks in the trees gave us a view of the vista beyond.

The mountains were a combination of fractured basalt and twisted underlying strata.

We had many miles of rutted, muddy roads.  The mud holes provide a jarring ride and successfully rearranged our cargo in the camper despite being "secured".  Mud holes are heinous because they are self-propagating: the more folks that drive into them, the deeper become and more likely to catch and retain water.

Further along the cliff we hit a sparse spot in the trees.  Note the slope of the terrain.

This fin looks like an intrusive dike, but given its color, I am betting it is just a point of weather-resistant material.

Further west, the cliff trail provided us a view of the Columbia River valley.  The far plateaus are on Indian reservation and are clearly being farmed.  The city in the valley is likely Wenatchee, WA.

Continuing along the ridge line we came to another view point that showed the exposed strata.

We crossed the crest of a ridge and the trail turned to the south over another ridge into an area that suffered heavy fire damage.  There were miles of wasted area.  But, in for a penny, in for a pound.  We continued on hoping that we would get past the fire damage before nightfall.

A few bumpy miles later we crested another ridge and started down the western flank of the ridge.  Soon, we had dropped 1,000 feet of elevation and got past the burned area into a nice meadow.  I think it is laudable that the government puts up targets for the shooters.

We found a sufficiently flat area near the meadow and set up for the night.  It had been warm/hot in Wenatchee (elevation 700 feet), but at over 5400 feet, it got cold quickly after dark.

Next morning we broke camp and continued west on the same trail.  We came to a horse camping area and the road got significantly better on the western side.  The trail took us past several large areas of fractured basalt.

When it burned, the fire hopped from one portion of the mountain to another, sparing some areas and burning others.  We went in and out of burned areas for several miles.

A good sign for those that don't know whether they are coming or going.

Further west, the trail traversed a large fractured basalt zone on a steep, narrow ledge created by a bulldozer.  The trail was very exposed and the rockfall area was steep leaving no room for wheel placement errors.  But, the trail giveth and the trail takes away.  What we lost in driving comfort we gained in view.  No trees grew through the fractured basalt allowing a clear view of the mountains beyond.

A portion of the basalt scree zone is visible in the bottom right of the photo above.

We descended the final ridges and came to US97 and headed south to Ellensburg, WA for lunch and a supply stop.  Outside the Mexican restaurant I spotted this gem.  Nicely done, Jed.

From Ellensburg, we headed west through Manastash Canyon back into the mountains.  The plan was to go up Quartz Mountain and then follow the trail down the other side to WA410.  The map said the trail was there, so we decided to check it out as it would save us 60-70 miles of road driving.  But, short cuts are rarely shorter.  The road most of the way up Quartz Mountain was pretty good.  Higher up, it got steeper, more narrow and rutted.  We finally got to the peak and got a nice view.  Note the clear-cut areas in the photo above.

To the north we could see rugged peaks.

At the base of the range was a reservoir that looked well below it's capacity.

The peak area at Quartz Mountain was flat, but windy and cold.  We started down the trail going southwest and were immediately thwarted by trees.  Thor is a full 8 feet wide and the trail had not been maintained in years.  There were plenty of ATV tracks, but no full size vehicle tracks.  We scouted about 1/2 mile of trail on foot and both of us concluded that the grade and rocks were of no concern.  But, without a chain saw and plenty of muscle (and time) the trail was a no-go.  So, we admitted defeat and returned to Ellensburg for that 60 miles of road that we were seeking to avoid.  The cost of the whole affair: 60 miles of dirt (including the backtrack) and 60 miles of road.

Manastash Canyon has steep walls cut into the basalt flows.  Look carefully at the photo above and you can see at least 6 separate basalt flows stacked like a layer cake.  In the past the whole Columbia River basin suffered repeated volcanic flows that have been uplifted, folded and eroded to provide today's topography.

We traveled back to Ellensburg and then went south along the Yakima River.  It was getting late so we chose a BLM camp site on the river.  We also realized that it was Thursday before Labor Day and the coming weekend would provide heavy traffic in the back country areas.  Indeed, after we set up our camp many folks came into the area seeking a spot and then having to continue on.

The night next to the river was uneventful (some of the best nights are...) and next morning we continued south toward Yakima along the Yakima River canyon.  Above is a mystery facility we spotted on the river.  At first we thought it was a fish hatchery, but there was too much concrete for a simple hatchery.  My second guess was a water treatment plant, but it did not have enough infrastructure for that.  My final guess was an intake for the irrigation canal that serves Yakima.

The layer-cake structure of the repeated basalt flows in visible in the cliff walls in Yakima River canyon.

We did a resupply stop in Yakima and then headed west on US12 over Chinook Pass.  The upper reaches of the approach were shrouded in clouds.

The approach to Chinook Pass provided nice views of rugged peaks to the south of the highway.

There were many rock slide areas on the approach to the pass.  This section of the highway was blown away by a slide.  The retaining wall was demolished and a portion of the highway itself was starting to slide into the canyon.

At the crest of Chinook Pass was a pull-out area.  Looking back, the pass is a pretty constant grade.  The slide areas are obvious.

At the crest of the pass, we saw this camper.  We should have stopped, but instead kept going.  This truck is significant because we saw it in 2011 in the Badlands in South Dakota.  (See photos 11 and 12 on that link.) The license plate is from Minnesota, there is no question it is the same vehicle.  What are the chances that we would be at the same place at the same time 3 years later?

The crest of the pass brought us into the Mount Rainier National Park.

The west side of Chinook Pass was much steeper and intense than the east side.

The switchbacks cut through layer upon layer of basalt.

We ended up in the NPS campsite at White River.  It was overcast, rainy and cold.  The rain finally gave up and I cooked a custom-cut steak we purchased in Yakima and Kathleen made baked potatoes.  Not a shabby meal for roughing it.

Next, we check out Mount Rainier from the Sunrise area and then head south to the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad.

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