Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ladder Creek Falls 01-14-2012 Newhalem, WA

The first hike of 2012 wasn't all that it was planned to be.

That's not to say it wasn't a good hike, because it was a beautiful destination and the trail is pretty unusual too.

If you happened to read the itinerary that I posted less than 24 hours ago then you'll know that today's hike was planned to include a lot more than a 1 mile round trip hike.

The morning started off on the wrong foot when my cell phone alarm didn't go off - or if it did go off, I slept right through it. Instead of waking up at 6:15 for an early start to accomplish a big itinerary, my day actually started at 8:15 a.m.. On the positive side, my extra sleep only messed up my own schedule (one of the few benefits of a solo hike day).

Finally hit the road at about 9:15 a.m.. Ground was wet at home, but cold. The Nookachamps Winter run was just starting. By the time I reached Sedro-Woolley, it was hailing.

Snow, rain and hail all alternated between Sedro and Newhalem. At times there were four inches of snow across the road with only a set of tire tracks to follow.

Slowed down in Rockport... no active eagles (at 10:15am) which was ok because it was cold and wet out there.

Turned onto the Cascade River Road in Marblemount after seeing a sign for Free Tours at the Fish Hatchery. There was a lot more snow out there and it was breezy too. Decided to skip the tour in favor of continuing east.

Immediately after Marblemount, the snow deepened. Cars in front of me (two of them) decided to turn around. In the middle of the highway. I had to stop and wait for them to get out of the way.

By the time I reached Newhalem, there was about six inches of snow in the neighborhood streets, but Hwy 20 was plowed and pretty clean in 'town'. I cruised around town slowly, enjoying the solid feel of the car on the soft untouched snow. Feeling anxious about continuing beyond Newhalem, I parked near the powerhouse and went to visit Ladder Creek Falls.

It was wet. Really wet snow. Raingear: drenched. Boots: soaked. Camera: waterlogged. Toes: sweaty and cold. Eyes: Enjoying the sights immensely.

The powerhouse visitor center is closed in the winter, but a sign on the door indicates you can use the 'grey phone' near the stairs to call the operator and he'd let you in. Instead of doing that, I just hit the trail - and took a few pictures.

The trail itself was probably 1 mile long or less. Elevation gain is probably about 100 feet or less.

It's a beautiful area with beautiful gardens - but moreso in the summer. Right now all the ponds are drained and snow is covering many of the plants. At night the gardens are illumnated by colored lights. IIRC, the lights are on until 10pm but I suspect they aren't on at all in the winter.

This is a GREAT rest break for the family if you ever pass by Newhalem. Even though the hike is short, there are other neat things to do while you are in town.

The visitor centers are cool - both of them. One is in the powerhouse (mentioned above) and the other is across the street from the General Store in the middle of town.

Mr. Ross's Crypt (and his wife's) is located across the street (he's buried in the side of the mountain). There is a little trail to it if you look.

Trail of the Cedars is located near the end of the main street (beyond the Generaly Store) and offers another neat bridge over the river plus a nice interpretive loop.

Be sure to take a peek at Old Engine No. 6.

If you like to plan and organize, consider making an advance registration for the Dam Tour.

Just East of Newhalem is the Gorge Creek bridge and overlook (and the dam).

Just West of Newhalem is a campground and a North Cascades National Park Visitor Center with some top notch exhibits and a short trail to a view of the Pickett Mountain range (if the clouds cooperate).

The very first time that I drove into Newhalem it felt like something out of a Twilight Zone movie. A little residential town in the middle of nowhere. All the houses looked alike. It was dead quiet. Weird.

Now, I percieve it as a pretty neat place to visit. Two thumbs up!

On with the trip report...

After drying off from the photo taking session, it seemed prudent to see what the road conditions were further east. My original destination (town of Diablo) was still 10 curvy miles away - an area known for large scale avalanches and destruction during storms.

The road to the east was clear, but after passing by the last major destruction area, the snow came down much faster and the wind blew a lot harder. The Risk / Benefit threshold was exceeded so I turned around and headed back to the west.

Once arriving in Marblemount with so much extra time on my hands (still wearing wet boots and rain pants) it made sense to stop at the fish hatchery again to enjoy a tour.

The tour was nice and very informative (but I was freezing).

Glad to be back in the car with the heater on. Drove to Sedro-Woolley (sunshine and blue skies on the western horizon), shopped for new boots in town and then headed home.

While the day might have been considered a failure if other people were along for the ride today, I think it was a nice little jaunt. Yes, too much driving for such little hiking, but it was nice to see Newhalem and the falls in snow and there were numerous facts learned about Eagles and Fish.

Plus, only two more days until I'm back on the trail so it's all good.

Lucky me!

Happy Trails!


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