July in Okanogan County
Soon after arriving back in the United States Apryle and I packed up the moving truck full of our belongings and made the voyage east toward our new home of Tonasket, Washington. Tonasket is located in north central Okanogan County on the eastern bank of Okanogan River. It was named for Chief Tonasket of the Okanogan and is currently home to just under one thousand people.
I began work at North Valley Hospital, traveling between clinics in both Tonasket and its neighbor to the north, Oroville. All the while Apryle continued to work on her PhD. We both settled in nicely to our new home and were never at a loss for new adventures.
July was a crucial month for Apryle and I in terms of training. She needed a few final long runs and a solid taper for the White River 50 miler and I needed to increase my mileage and vertical training for the IMTUF 100 miler in September.
The running went excellent and as a result of car troubles my cycling mileage increased drastically as well. In thirty-one short days we explored much of the eastern part of the state, including: Carter Mountain Wildlife Area, Salmo-Priest Wilderness, Whistler Canyon, Similkameen Valley, Sinlahekin Wildlife Area, Burge Mountain, Clackmas Mountain, Molson Museums, Ferry County Rail Trail, and Cactus Mountain.
Tonasket Track Hills
Despite all of the amazing places we visited, one of my favorite spots for an evening run remains the small network of trails behind the high school track. It is simply a network of single track game trails or old vehicle ruts through the sage brush but it is perfect for an undulating evening run, that is quite close to home.
This is an ideal 6-7 mile out and back run along a dirt trail that meanders through a valley surrounded by rocky outcroppings. The trail has relatively little elevation change, but bushwhacking up and down the craggy mountains provides quite a challenge. This was one of the first areas we explored and loved the diversity of the landscape which included shrub-steppe, grassland and sparse conifer forest. The unit is over 2,000 acres and is home to black bear, cougar, bobcat, mule deer and migratory birds.
This is perhaps one of the most secluded and areas that Apryle and I have visited yet. It is in the northeastern corner of the state within the Selkirk Mountains. There are numerous hikes to be done and the trails that we covered were densely forested. One of the most interesting features of this area to me is the fact that Grizzly Bear have been spotted here from time to time. I am torn between wanting to see the majestic animal and not wanting to see it…
This canyon is quite accessible, and is even on the way home from work in Oroville! The trailhead is right off of highway 97, and features about 1200 feet of elevation gain in the first 2.5 miles.
Additionally it offers excellent views of the Okanogan Valley and its orchards below. Not only is there a trail network, but there are also several climbing routes on the surrounding cliff sides. Needless to say, this is a must stop trailhead for Apryle and I on a weekly basis.
This is an excellent 7.5-mile out and back accessible right from downtown Oroville. The trail is quite flat, as it used to be a railroad, which leads to the Enloe Dam. This trail is a nice break from all of the elevation gain associated with Cactus Mountain or Whistler Canyon and it continues to be a staple in my weekly runs. What it lacks in undulation and distance, it makes up for with scenery, offering beautiful sweeping views of the Similkameen River Gorge below.
Sinlahekin Wildlife Area
Apryle and I found this hidden gem 2.5 miles south of Loomis with the main intention of fishing and birding. However, we found that there was also a nice 7-8 mile trail that cuts through the heart of the valley. This trail is quite scenic and ranges from wide sections among sparse ponderosa forest, to narrow sections along the creek lined with mountain alder, hawthorn, water birch and intrusive grasses and sedges reaching mid-thigh height. Of course an eastern Washington trail would not be complete without a shrub steppe complete with wheatgrass, big sagebrush, bitterbrush and serviceberry.
The valley is bookended by craggy rock walls, which are home to herds of Big Horn Sheep. Several bird blinds dot the trails and offer excellent opportunity to view all the colorful species that inhabit this area. We fished out of four main lakes: Conners, Forde, Blue and Fish and while Apryle pulled in three fish, I gutted out a total of 18 miles on some ideal single-track trail.
There are a few barriers on the trail, which include a few gates, to push through and a few road crossings but other than that it is relatively unbroken. The first 4 or 5 miles are well cleared, but the path does get a bit overgrown as it meanders along the Westside of Blue Lake. The route also begins to pitch up in this section and skirt along a scree-field at the base of a rocky cliff. The hillside here is full of vibrant purple fireweed, which melds into a grass-covered, non-visible chute around Blue Lake.
Burge Mountain is evidently not a frequently visited area as indicated by the nondescript entrance and the overgrown trail. The main purpose of our trip to this mountain was rock climbing, which we found plenty to keep up busy. Apryle began leading a route when we picked up on the signs of an incoming thunderstorm and decided it best to rappel back down and head home. However, with several bolted routes strewn about a half mile rock face, we will certainly be back for more exploration.
Clackmas Mountain (…kind of…)
The trip to this mountain was planned around a Jimi Hendrix/Led Zeppelin cover band concert in the great American city – Republic. We decided to do a quick jaunt up to Clackmas Mountain from the Sweat Creek Trailhead off of highway 20. However, we must have taken a different route because we ended up on an unnamed peak and already past our distance goal.
So we decided to head back to the trailhead so that we could make it back to shop at our favorite store – Mom and Pops in downtown Republic. We ended up with a 13-mile day and nearly 4000 feet of elevation gain. The trail was pleasant, offering some beautiful views of forested mountaintops. The trail was quite undulating, but completely runable from start to finish, which is rare with the amount of vertical feet we accumulated.
Molson Museums & Sidley Lake
This area is quite unique, just a stones throw from Canada and and steeped in history. There are two museums in this town of about 35, as well as a lake with public fishing. The first museum is an assortment of old buildings including homestead cabins, a bank and mining company office.
The second museum is an old schoolhouse, which closed in 1969 and was preserved in nearly the same condition. Traveling a few more miles north of the museum leads to Sidley Lake where I am told the fishing is phenomenal. The final leg of the journey reaches the former site of the town of Sidley, British Columbia, which is nothing more than a sign and barbed wire fence separating the US/Canada border.
Ferry County Rail Trail and Curlew Lake
Another trip to Republic was warranted for paddling on the seven-mile Curlew Lake. Apryle is an avid kayaker, with experiences that include an 111 day, 1200 mile trip along the Inside Passage from Gig Harbor, WA to Glacier Bay, AK. Although my only experience is limited to a 5-mile paddle around Port Aransas in Texas in a two-person kayak with Apryle, we still were able to enjoy a three mile leisurely outing.
After some time in the boat it was time for a 20 miler. Fortunately, Ferry Counties Rail Trail project has been restoring an old railroad into a walking/biking trail. And even more conveniently, there are several access points right off of Curlew Lake! The pathway extends from US/Canada border into downtown Republic, but due to my location, I simply did a series of out and backs finishing up on the Golden Tiger portion of the trail in Republic. It is ideal for a quick pace on a soft surface without much vertical gain. It is not the most scenic, as it runs past an old airstrip, a few factories, and cattle grazing land, but there are some stretches where it offers views of the San Poil River below and forested hillsides above. Ultimately it is an incredible resource that eastern Washington is fortunate to have.
Cactus Mountain & Lake Osoyoos
During the last week in July I started doing some exploring in Oroville and stumbled upon two great mountain climbs. The first was a bushwhack to the top of a mountain with various towers and the second was a sandy trail to the top of Cactus Mountain. Both of these mountains are just to the east of Lake Osoyoos and offer stunning views of the valley and lake below. Because of the fear of rattlesnakes and grasses sending off their barbed/needled/serrated-edged seeds into my socks, I decided to hold off on any more ascents of the unnamed peak. However, Cactus Mountain has become my new favorite hill repeat course. At just ¾ of a mile to the top and over 1000 feet of elevation gain, this little peak really packs a punch.
There is an average grade of 24% and the trail is composed of loose sand that adds another component of misery to the ascent. The descent is so steep that it is often times difficult to make the turn without flying off the edge into a patch of sagebrush. By the time the descent is over my quads are so wrecked that I actually look forward to the ascent, but by the time I reach the top my heart is beating so quickly as I gasp for air that I can’t wait to glissade down the sand once again. This is the reason that I love Cactus Mountain, both the ascent and descent are so miserable that it actually makes you look forward to the other. That and the cool refreshing waters of Lake Osoyoos below, which makes an excellent cool down destination.
The Final Leg
The month of July ended with a bang; a 39 mile run with my friend Adam Braddock traversing the Northern Loop at Mount Rainier National Park and Apryle’s incredible White River 50 Miler performance. Both of these adventures warrant their own post; so at this point I will conclude this rather lengthy post.
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