Melissa, Cassidy, Aly (Cassidy’s friend), and I arrived in the afternoon to find that most of the campground was already claimed, or at least all of the spots with any kind of shade. Guess that should be expected given there was a forest fire not too far away that had closed a number of other campgrounds. We opted for one of the only spots left right by the creek where we could dip our toes in the water to cool off should the need arise.
As mentioned the Jolly Mountain Fire was about 15 miles to the west of where we were camping and while you could see smoke for the fire in the air it was not so bad that it bothered anyone. All of the hills and mountains around us were visible not to mention the smoke high up in the atmosphere was acting like a filter to block some of the direct sun light making it a little cooler than the predicted 90 degrees.
I mentioned there was not shade right? Lucky for use we carry our own in the form of a popup awning which we deployed over the back of the trailer so that we could get a little breeze and get the full benefit of all the shade possible. About this time Chris G drove into camp to say hello. He was working at the construction site for the wildlife crossing on Snoqualmie and finish for the day so decided to visit. As the sun started to set we caught up on what had been happening and listened to the Seahawks play a pre-season game. Along about halftime Chris made the hard decision to call it a night as he still had to work the next day.
About the time the game was wrapping up Jon V found us with the aid of some other campers who offered to help him look for us when he met them on the other side of the creek. Upon the discovery of out location he quickly retrieved his motorhome and rig which he was flat towing. Melissa and I pitched in where we could and Jon was quickly squared away in the campsite. Being as it was a long day we decided to call it done and turned in for the night.
The day dawned and despite it being close to 90* the day before it was downright nippy, I would way in the mid 40* range and made everyone put on a coat before braving the morning. The drop in temperature overnight had also effected the smoke causing it to settle right down into the valleys and gulches around us like it was fog. You could see for about a 1/4 mile at most but after that things were pretty hard to make out. As it was just the two rigs still we decided on a rather leisurely schedule and agreed to do a bit more exploring than otherwise would occur on a run with a lot of rigs. So it was that we loaded up the rigs with lunch and lots of water then headed out in search of the day.
Wanting to do something a little different we headed over towards Billy Goat Gulch to take a look around at some trails that I had not been on in the few years and since Jon had not been able to explore Liberty much it was all new for him. I worked out a loop that I wanted to take but as sometimes happens plans change and we just ended up going a different direction all together. After putting around and a bit in Billy Goat we started to head for Mission Ridge with the intention of getting a good look at the area as well as the effects of the fire and smoke. On the way though we ran across a road crew fixing a slump in the road that forced us to back track and take the Hole In The Wall trail to get around. When we reached the intersection for the Liberty Beehive road and Table Mountain road the GPS showed a geocache that was not too far from the road so we said what the heck. Cassidy and Aly were all for it at the beginning but as the hill got steeper there resolve dwindled. They stuck with it though and found the cache along with a great view of the south side of Blewett pass. You could just see the top of Mt Rainer poking above the cloud of smoke from the fire but it was all blue skies above that and the little breeze mad everything very nice.
With the Geochache done we headed towards Mission Ridge again but took a detour just after Haney Meadows to run 4W312 which I had been on before. It was not a hard trail but it did have a great view about midway through where you could see the Blewett Pass highway waaaaaaaaay down below. Smoke from the Norse Peak and Jolly Mt Fires was now obscuring all of Mt Rainer as the fires came to life with the rising temperatures of the day. Finishing the trail we again headed towards Mission Ridge with the intention of getting up high to see everything, but we just did not make it there. Instead we went down the Grouse Springs trail and into the Naneum Basin.
At the bottom of the big hill on Grouse Springs we stopped at the old Scout body and frame that had been abandoned there more than 50 years before. Story was that two guys hunting the area one fall tried to go up the hill in a snow storm and got only half way up before losing traction and rolling down the hill. They were banged up pretty good but were able to get help and get out after a bulldozer was run down Grouse Springs to get to them. The snow storm had dumped so much snow that nothing else was able to get to their location. That story is third hand but it is the one that I know.
We and Jon continued on into the basin hoping to find a way out towards the back side of Table Mountain but were unable to find the way so eventually just drove out the way we came in through Grouse Springs. We did come across some silt beds on the road in the basin that were fun to drive through. When you started into them you did not stop because you could not see anything behind you and if the cloud of dust caught up with you it would result in a dust bath you would remember for the rest of your life.
Once through the dust and back on the Beehive Road we headed towards camp as it was late in the afternoon. There was no detour this time as the road crew had finished fixing the slump in the road. The road crew must have left not too long before we did as it looked like they used their water truck on the way out to spray down the road. The dust was not too horrible as a result on our way back too camp since we took the same route they did. We arrived at camp to find Chris B had found us and he was just finishing his camp setup in preparation for Ashley and Hannah to arrive the next morning. Chris G had been in camp earlier in the day according to Chris B but had taking off in search of adventure and then was heading home for the weekend to tackle the honey do list which awaited him.
With the sun going down and everyone tired from the heat as well as the smoke we called it a day. So it was that we found us all sitting under the pop up on the deck of the trailer out of the falling ash from the fire eating dinner and talking as the day came to a close. The bug zapper came out as the form of entertainment for the evening since there were not fires allowed and we talked into the evening about the trails we had run as well as the plans for the next day. Finally after falling asleep for the third time in my chair we called it a night and turned in before it got too chilly.
Just as the day before it got a bit chilly during the night and as a result the smoke sank down into the gullies and gulches acting just like fog. Ashley having left early in the morning arrived a little after 8am and we were all ready to hit the trail about 9ish. As Jon, Chris, and Ashley had not spent a lot of time at Liberty we decided to hit the 4W319 to start. We were not in a hurry and just putted along taking our time and trying different lines over a few of the obstacles on the trail. We eventually ended up at 1st look out which is also known as Crystal Mt Lookout. It was here that we ran into Dave M from the FS who let us know that the trails on the west side of the highway were closed due to the Jolly Mountain Fire and the FS not wanting to risk having people in the area should the fire get away from them. OK safety first but it was a bit of a bummer as we had wanted to run those trails on Sunday. Plans change.
We headed out again and turned down the 4W329 but not before doing a little trail work and dragging a downed tree out of the way. On we went down into the first creek gullies and gulches hoping to get the low elevation trail running done early and time things out so that we were on the high elevation trails later in the day. We were doing great until we ran across some ranchers cows that did not want to move off the trail. Eventually they got the idea and we completed the 4W329 turning left and heading for the crossing where First Creek runs over the road. We at lunch not too far from the creek in the shade on the side of the road talking about what to do next. Everyone was ok with wanting to head for higher ground so we decided to do the 4W327 trail and they complete the rest of the 4W319 trail including the stair step.
We all got through the stair step with no real issues. Jon did have to run the left side of the step because he had issues with the right side but he did it just fine with his slightly longer wheel base. We took a little break at the top to enjoy the cool breeze and continued on up the trail towards higher elevation and the promise of slightly cooler temperatures in the 80s. Reaching the end of the trail we took a left and headed towards Lion Rock to take in the view and a break to enjoy the breeze as well. There were a couple of geocaches which Cassidy and Ashley helped be to find and afterwards people were ready to head back down the hill. It was a little early but since it was Hannah’s first run we all decided to take it easy and head towards camp on the paved FS roads for a good portion of the trip. We dropped back down the middle part of 4W319 and ran down the FS dirt road back to camp.
Back at camp we watched\helped Jon to pack up as he needed to head for home due to previous commitments. It did not take him long to get everything set and the Jeep rigged for flat tow before he was saying farewell and making the trek towards home. With Jon’s exit it was time for dinner and conversation with Ashley and Chris. We all sit under the pop up again out of the ash while talking and having a good time. Steve and Rudy arrived a little before dark to setup camp, make dinner, and join the group under the ash shielding pop up. The bug zapper was fired up again for entertainment and we talked long into the night before falling asleep in chairs and pronouncing it was time for bed.
It was the coldest morning by far when we woke up and the smoke this morning was also the worst for the trip. Once again the temperature drop had resulted in the smoke falling down to the ground just like fog but this morning it was bothering people a little bit more. Everyone was dressed against the cold as they made breakfast on stoves and grills waiting for the sun to climb over the top of the ridge and cast its warmth down.
This day I think that the cold caused us to be a little slow as we left camp a little later than intended. Being as the west side of the highway was closed and my rig was the only one to run Billy Goat Gulch this trip already we headed that direction in search of some fun. So it was that we ran part of the 4W322 and most of the 4W339. After that we headed to the Hole in the wall trail 4W334 completed it in short order. It was lunch time by now so we headed towards Table Mountain and a nice dead end road that ends in a point which overlooks the south side of Blewett pass and would have a breeze to blow away the bugs not to mention cooling us down.
With lunch done we headed towards the snow shoe trail which was a little ways away but it was a trail that no one had run before. I went up the hill first at the start of the trail and did ok with just one little restart where I bounced sideways. Chris hit that same spot and took a little bigger bounce and it was at that point which Ashley decided that she and Hannah needed to walk the rest of the way. So it was that I ran back down and carried Hannah up the hill while Ashely walked up behind. With Ashley and Hannah at safely at the top of the hill Chris of course had no problem just walking up the rest of the way. It was Steve and Rudy’s turn and they had no issues getting up the hill but as they pulled up I noticed that they had a front lower link bouncing along on the ground.
At this point people were tired from the heat and since the smoke was worse it was to the point where people were starting to not have fun. The missing bolt for the lower link was the last straw and we all decided to take it as a sign cutting our losses early and head back towards camp after we got the link fixed. After I found a bolt that would work in my on board parts stash we worked for the next hour to install the bolt. Steve and Rudy had to drive the Jeep home and we did not want them to have an issue. Because the axle had rotated just enough to make installation of the link and bolt difficult we had to break out the winch to move it back in place but we got it done. With everything repaired we went back down the trail and headed towards camp.
It was about 4pm when we got back to camp but since we were all going home the next morning, traffic on the pass sure to be ugly the next day, the smoke was getting worse, and the air mattress Steve and Rudy were using had a leak, we all decided that there had been enough signs that going home that night was not a horrible idea. The group threw in the towel and decided to make a dash for home where we could all breathe easier not to mention get a shower and sleep in a warm bed. We all helped each other get things packed and left camp for home pretty much at the same time. Traffic over the pass was not bad and once we got to the west side of Cle Elum the smoke cleared up a bit. We left a little early but it was the right decision.
Thank you everyone that was able to make it out. You being there made it a better weekend to go camping and wheeling in the woods.
What I learned:
- Some trails you run for the view not for the challenge.
- Jon really wants to run the trails at Liberty when they are a little slippery.
- Just looking for a new way to get from Pt A to Pt B can be fun.
- A bolt that was intended for a track bar on a YJ can be used as a link bolt on a JK.
- Check your air mattress for leaks before you leave on a camping trip.