A 4-day, 3-night Jeep Expedition
In Washington State
Mid-week on August 17th some friends and I took a few days off of work for a multi-day Jeep expedition. The plan was to cross the Cascade Mountains on the Naches Trail, following an old wagon train route. This would deliver us into the little Naches basin where we would then climb part way up Manastash Ridge to establish camp and spend the next few days exploring the area's Jeep trails. The weather the entire time was gorgeous. Most days were stunningly cloudless under brilliant blue skies. What clouds did show up were cheerful wispy things in the late afternoons. Day time temperatures were warm-to-hot under the sun but the evenings cooled off pleasantly.
Wednesday, Aug 17th, 2011
Wednesday morning we set off from the Bothell area, NE of Seattle, and zipped down the east side of Lake Washington to the town of Enumclaw. There we topped off with fuel before heading out Hwy 410 to Greenwater and the start of the Naches Trail. In our group we were running similarly lifted TJ Wranglers but with different drivetrains: a manual 4 banger on a 2" lift with street tires, a 6 cylinder automatic on a 2.5" lift with a locker and mud tires, and a rig with a small-block V8 conversion running a GM tranny, also on a 2.5" lift with mud tires but open diffs. Surprisingly, or not, they all returned the exact same fuel economy throughout the trip, leading us all to wonder why Jeep just didn't install a V8 to start with? But I digress . . .
On the far side of Greenwater we took Forest Service Rd 70 up to the start of the Naches trail. At the end of the pavement we air down, disconnected, and did final preparations for the trail. Finally we were off, shifted into 4-Lo, and crawling our way up the steep hill climbs of the western Naches Trail by 2pm. Dust was not surprisingly minimal as the trail meandered through the damper underbrush of typical western WA forests. While there were a few off-camber sections of trail, re-routes due to wind-fallen tree, and some notably steep section none of the Jeeps were having difficulties.
By mid-afternoon we reached Government Meadows, the site where the Longmire wagon train of 1853 rested before lowering their wagons down 700 ft cliffs with oxen and ropes. The meadows were beautiful and we walk down a short length of the Pacific Crest Trail to inspect a cabin built on the edge of the meadow. After burning up some time with photos and video work up to this point we didn't loiter at the cabin. Climbing back in the Jeeps we rumbled off, skirting the meadows just inside the tree line to the formal Naches Pass at the eastern end of the clearing.
Once past the pass we began the long decent down into the Naches Valley. AT this point it was 2 hours of bumping over a somewhat rocky, root strewn trail that is slow but otherwise not particularly challenging. That is, until we reached the FS Rd 1913 intersection. Here we did the left-right zig-zag across a concrete bridge to continue on with the very tail end of the Naches Trail. After a few minutes the route starts up on some semi-short but steep hill climbs as it works its way around a bend in the river far below. Here the trail is traversing a steep hillside between trees. There is little room for maneuvering, either due to the sharp drop to the river or the tight squeeze between the trees. At one point there were two of us hanging off one side of the V8 TJ so the snorkel would clear a tree on the opposite side.
Not long after this we came to the end of the Naches Trail as it terminated at the paved FS Rd 19. It was 6pm at this point and we still had a ways to go to get to camp. So back into 2WD and a easy cruise down Rd 19 with a brief stop the fish ladder to scope that out, another stop at a deserted camp site next to the road where we found some fire wood, and then on to camp.
At the beginnings of the Kaner Flats trail we started climbing up the south side of Manastash Ridge via the gravel roads. First on the 1903 road, then on the 1915 to the end where we got back on the Kaner Flats Trail to Lilly Pond lake. Finding the lake area full of mosquitos we pressed on down the Milk Pond Trail until we found an acceptable site and started setting up camp. By this point it was near 8pm and we just got the camp set up by the time it got too dark. Dinner that night were hobos: mishmash of mushrooms, onions, potatoes, meat, and seasonings wrapped in tin foil and tossed into the camp fire. Mmm.....
Thursday, Aug 18th, 2011
Joe crossing some of the damaged but passable bridging on the eastern
side of the Naches Trail.
Steve squeezing his rig between some trees on the eastern tail end of the
Naches Trail. We had to hang off the opposite side as counter-weight.
The end of the Naches has some side-hill sections with little room for manuvering.
Thursday morning we woke up and ate a breakfast of bacon, eggs, Poptarts, and muffins. The previous night was nice and we were pleased with the lack of bugs and mosquitos. So we decided to leave our camp set up, trust that anyone else would leave it be, and set off for a full day of Jeep'n. We climbed back up Milk Pond trail to Lilly Pond Lake and the intersection with the Kaner Flats trail. Then onto the Kaner Flats trail to the top of Manastash Ridge. Our goal was to reach Quartz Mt and loop back to Frost Mt and Tripod Flats.
The upper part of Kaner has a number of surreal sections where the route works its way across crumbling basalt rock fields. The rocks are not big but there is zero dirt or vegetation across some of these rock fields and the way is bouncy. On the steeper sections the rocks clinked and rumbled as our tires rolled along. At one point we stopped for some brief rock climbing on some interesting spire further up the hill.
Close to noon we had reached the top and intersected with the Manastash Ridge trail. Turning left we headed off toward Quartz Mt. At this point the ridge trail is bumpy, dusty, but otherwise easy. Except for the one semi-significant hill climb. There are multiple routes up but one of the funnest was the far left climb with a combination of basalt rubble and dry slippery dust. With the locker engaged my wheel slipped and rolled a bit but it was an otherwise uneventful climb. Not so with Joe and Steve. Joe's run up in particular was very entertaining as his rig was lost in a massive cloud of dust most of the way up. Nonetheless, we all reach the top and pressed onward.
At the intersection with the Wells Meadow trail we turned right. The Wells Meadow trail is very easy but it's a beautiful trail that crosses Wells Meadow before dropping down and up a pleasant creek valley to Forest Service Rd 31 to the North. Back out on a gravel road we switched back into 2WD and motored to the end of the road at Quartz Mountain. The views from up there were spectacular as we looked out over the Naches Valley below to the south. Also to the south were Mt. Adams and Mount Rainier, both clearly visible and prominent on the near by horizon. It was a good local for lunch and we pulled out our food. The chip bags were massively inflated as the air sealed in side expanded at the 6,000+ elevation we were at. A hawk sailed out from below us looking for its own lunch as we gazed down on its back before it caught a thermal and soared off overhead.
Lunch over we bombed down FS Rd 31 to Frost Mountain. Lower down the valley Rd 31 had been washed out from heavy spring snow melt so access is limited to another route in. This resulted in very few others out on the road that day and leant a deserted feeling to this side of Manastash Ridge. Frost Mountain is very steep but fun hill climb over about a mile of trail. At the top is the last leg of a steep, near straight run to the crest where some concrete piers are all that remain of a long gone fire watch tower. From this vantage point we could look down on the towns of Cle Elum and Ellensburg to the North and Northeast, respectively.
We had reached the apex of the planned route for the day and it was time to start making our way back. We were hoping to cross Manastash Creek at Buck Meadows and reach the Tripod Flats trailhead but the road was washed out. Not wanting to retrace our route we then tried the Buck Meadows Trail and found out that the bridging sections were intact and passable. Nice. We took the Tripod Flats to the intersection with Tipover Trail. There we got on the new route to head back to the top of the Kaner Flats trail at the top of Manastash Ridge.
Tipover was another trail with a number of rock fields but these are interspersed among some forest sections. The climbs here were fun and the trail got more technical as there were some rocks to scramble over and ruts to navigate. At the end of Tipover we took the String trail right up to the top of the ridge, stopping for a photo op on some out croppings overlooking a broad valley area. By this point it was nearing 7:30 and the sun had dipped below the ridge line. We needed to hurry along before losing anymore daylight. We made steady progress until the ridge line where we encountered an really torn up and rocky section between us and the top of the Kaner Flats Trail. It took the three of us some time to work our way down this section of trail but we managed without much incident.
Back down the upper Kaner to Lilly Pond Lake, hastily bashing our way over the rock fields we took our time on earlier in the day. By the time we reached camp it was near dark and we were navigating the trail by headlights for the last hour. Dinner happened in darkness again but we had some tasty brats boiled up in beer, crisped on grates over the camp fire, some chips, and cold beer. A great way to end the evening.
Crossing one of the rock fields on the upper part of the Kaner Flats trail.
The Kaner ducks in and out of the trees as it climbs up to Manastash Ridge.
We had come up from the valley below, setting up camp not too
far from where this photos was taken.
Joe climbing up the dusty climb on the Manastash Ridge
trail. We couldn't see hide nor hair of him for some
time until he reached the top and the dust cleared.
Stopping for lunch at the top of Quartz Mt.
On top of Frost Mountain all covered with dust . . .