Sunday, September 02, 2007

Indian Heaven Wilderness

Admittedly, my posts about hiking in Oregon and Washington have fallen short this year. We did get out a bit this last couple of weeks, so I’ll tell you about a wilderness that’s worth taking a leisurely stroll in.

The Indian Heaven Wilderness, in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Washington, is probably one of the lesser known natural preserves in the Cascades. It’s situated in between Mt. Saint Helens and Mt. Adams, but a bit to the south. The easiest way to get there is to take highway 141 north from White Salmon (across the bridge from Hood River, Oregon) to the town of Trout Lake and visit the ranger station there, right on the highway. Get yourself one of their wilderness maps, which are very detailed and far more updated than the USGS quads.

The wilderness is a paradise of huckleberry bushes, which have been picked by native Americans for thousands of years. Tribes from as far away as Montana and Wyoming, as well as across Washington and Oregon, would gather there for Summer festivities in the early 20th century. They would dry game, fish, race horses, play games, and of course pick berries.

The area is now inundated with locals and not-so-locals picking berries from July (if you can stand the mosquitoes, some call this Mosquito Heaven) through most of August. Some sell them in Trout Lake or other localities. If you stop at the small diner attached to the gas station at the cross roads as you enter town you can get Huckleberry shakes, pies, cobblers and just about everything else you can force the little tart berries into.

The roads are pretty good coming in from Trout Lake. The mainlines are really well maintained, even the gravel ones. I would have no trouble at all getting our Nissan on FR 60 or FR 24. I think that FR65 coming from Carson to the south is paved all along the Wilderness’ western flanks, but I haven’t driven that way, so check first.

We took a side road, FR6035, to the Crater Lake trail, and I recommend that anyone using this road have higher clearance. It’s not really bad, but there area couple of spots where the drainage has done some damage.

We took the Crater trail up 2.5 miles to Junction Lake, which is right on the PCT, and set up camp. It was a gentle climb, and our 6 year old and 11 year old did it without much fuss at all. My impression is that, except for a trail or two, the entire wilderness is quite gentle in terrain. The trees are big and the forest is shady and sometimes downright cool and dark. There are lots of lakes. Junction was nice, but we took a walk down the PCT to Blue lake, which was much more spectacular.

While on the PCT we met some lovely people named Charlie Brown and Cardinal Bird who were hiking the entire PCT from Mexico to Canada. They looked pretty clean for having hiked over 2000 miles, but they were awfully nice, and provided encouragement for us, as we hope to take on that trail someday.

The thing, again, to note about this area is that the undergrowth is almost entirely huckleberry, except for the occasional rhododendron and baby conifer. If you are there in season you’ll never go hungry.

There are a few peaks with views of the surrounding forest, with the major volcanoes all around. However, we didn’t see that much, and you probably won’t either. But the peace and solitude of this wilderness is enough. It’s pretty without all the spectacular views you get elsewhere.

And, as we were constantly reminded, this is sasquatch country. Watch out! (no, really, I expected to see at least bears with all the berries around, but there were enough people I think that they were way off trail enjoying the goodies).

Picture 1: Crater trail almost to the PCT junction. Picture 2: Juction Lake. Picture 3: Charlie Brown and Cardinal Bird. Picture 4: Blue Lake. Picture 5: Huckleberries!!

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