Steamboat Rock, Sun Lakes Dry Falls, & Whitmore Lookout
The twenty-first week of two thousand sixteen was much like the preceding weeks, five days of relative monotony followed by a weekend of adventure. However, I did focus my week on hitting as many trails in Shoreline as possible. A run at Boeing Creek Park was bookended by some hill repeats at Innis Arden Reserve. I watched my pace crumble from a spry 6:30 mile to a 9 or 10-minute mile on the hilly trails, but I was happy to log some vertical feet. Overall, I was pleased with my week and met the majority of my objectives.
I punched my time card shortly after three in the afternoon, strapped on my backpack and made the quick jog home. No sooner did I walk in the door, I had my weekend gear in hand and was behind the wheel of the Versa. The only thing standing between me and Apryle and a weekend of adventure in the better half of the state was an hour and half of rush hour traffic, followed by about two hundred forty miles to Nespelem.
I was ecstatic to be out of the miserably congested city of Seattle and on my way to Apryle who was waiting somewhere among the isolated landscape of the Columbia River Basin. Upon arriving we went for a peaceful evening stroll discussing our weeks and a plan for the weekend. Unfortunately, the week had caught up to me when I awoke Friday morning and I was unable to make the early start for vegetation surveys, but after a short delay I hit the road for a quick morning ten miler along the Columbia River.
After a little over an hour of gazing off at the impressive River Oregon and trying to identify various bird species I encountered on the road, I did on a few chores around the bunk house. A few hours later I was back out on the trail (or lack there of) when I bushwhacked my way to some rock out croppings just beyond the house. The vertical feet mounted quickly, but the thing that limited my running was fear of snakes in the high grass and sage bush, not the steep slope. At any rate the views of the expansive landscape were exactly what I anticipated and I was able to catch a glimpse of the winding trail to the Whitmore Overlook, which Apryle and I would be visible on shortly.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of core work and reading from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire on a sun-faded picnic table. As I excitedly awaited Apryle’s return from the field, I thought about how fortunate I was to be spending my days in such a starkly beautiful place. Apryle appeared in the early evening quite weary from her long day of fieldwork, but I still convinced her to accompany me to the Whitmore Lookout. Since failing to reach the tower two weeks ago, it had been in the back of my mind constantly. Because of Apryle’s fatigue, we made a compromise to drive a little over half the way to the tower before running.
We parked not far from where we turned back the first time and started up the trail, which I estimated would be about two and three quarter miles to the summit. Our surroundings shifted from sagebrush and grass near the base to pine forest and upland meadow at the apex. We ran across two wild horses that were reluctant to relinquish their spot on the trail, which increased our alertness for potential dangers. After about eight hundred vertical feet we reached the lookout, and began the final ascent up an exposed metal staircase.
It was unsettling to feel the tower swaying slightly in the wind, but the views from the top were well worth it. The sun escaping the western horizon provided an intriguing lighting with which to view our surroundings. Satisfied with the panoramas we sprinted back down the hill to the car and arrived just as it became too dark to see.
The next day I joined Apryle in her vegetation measurement, and I was incredibly impressed with her streamlined system. Not only was she quick setting up the quadrants but also her plant identification skills were second to none and the accuracy with which she performed stem counts and measurements was outstanding.
Unfortunately time-constraints dictated that I make my way back toward civilization. But not before one last run up and down the scenic driveway, a quick stop at Steamboat Rock State Park and another circumnavigation of Sun Lakes Drive Falls State Park.
After driving by Steamboat Rock several times, I decided today was the day to make drop in and check it out. In typical fashion, I had no idea what to expect and no idea if a trail existed. Fortunately for me, the park far exceeded expectation and so did the trails. Steamboat Rock is a six hundred acre basalt butte, which protrudes eight hundred vertical feet from the scabland below. The butte also provides a picturesque backdrop for the twenty-seven mile Banks Lake, which engulfs the formerly dry coulee as a result of both the Dry Falls Dam and North Dam.
The trail was very sandy for about the first half mile, which was followed by a steep scree-filled scramble for a few hundred meters. This gave way to a grassy saddle just before the final push to the flat summit.
I had a difficult time distinguishing the actual trail from game trail, but I circled around the rock and made my way from the southeast point of prominence to the northwest point prominence, enjoying the views from both vantage points. I soaked in the scenery, but knew I had another goal of retracing my steps at Sun Lakes Dry Falls for a seven-mile full circumnavigation, so I made a fast descent. I took one last moment to enjoy the blooming lupine dotted between the sagebrush and obnoxiously invasive cheat grass, and was back on the road.
I arrived in Sun Lakes Dry Falls right after a light rain, just enough to wet the plants, and subsequently just enough to soak my clothes while running by on the trail. Although it was a mild nuisance, I did not let it detract from the interest the water droplets provided to the willow leaves or the way it heightened the fragrance given off by the sagebrush. I continued down the same path Apryle and I had a month earlier, except I was determined to locate the trail around the rock outcropping in the center of the park. This led me to a scramble up to a small saddle near the top of the narrow cliff.
I assumed this was the intended route for the circumnavigation, but I did not trust my running shoes on the slippery rock to make the descent. But this just prompted me to take a series of game trails around the prominence allowing me to meet back up with the official trail. I considered the objective met and enjoyed the final miles in the fascinating place that was once the largest falls in the world.
In my route finding efforts and focus on pace, I was letting my birding slip and I am certain that I missed out on adding several species to my life list. But I suppose becoming a skilled birder (like becoming a skilled runner) takes lots of trial and error as well as repetition. However, at the end of the run I was elated to find a relative of my power animal flying overhead. I spent several mosquito-infested minutes watching a pair of Caspian Terns fishing a little pond. The birds were hovering (scouting for actinopterygii of some kind), then after letting out a harsh scream diving down to the water to catch their prey. I ended the weekend on a high-note despite the sadness of leaving Apryle for the city once again.
Also I have to wish my most avid blog readers happy 29th Anniversary!