Umtanum Ridge

     Umtanum Ridge is one of my favorite spring hikes. Flowers start near the trailhead and never let up. The key is timing the peak of the blooming. With the advent of the internet it is much easier to get that knowledge. After viewing a report from last weekend I knew I had to get over there fast. Many hikers start from the north trailhead of the Yakima Skyline trail. It begins on the crest of the ridge. That is a good choice but I now prefer to start down along the Yakima River. The flowers are a little more varied as you work your way up to the crest of the ridge. What not long ago was a sketchy route which petered out entirely has now become a reasonably good trail most of the way up. The forecast was for highs in the mid 60s with a windy morning and a calmer afternoon. With this in mind I "slept in" until 6:00 am. It is 130 miles to the trailhead and took just about 2 hours. Canyon Road is undergoing construction and the detour added some time as it took me back and forth across Canyon Road. By 9:10 I was on my way crossing the suspension bridge.

     I had barely started climbing out of Umtanum Canyon when the flower show began. Balsamroot and lupine plus many others were along the trail. The sun was low enough to provide shade in this side canyon. It was the last shade I would see for the rest of the day. This route can be brutally hot, even in April. Thankfully it was warm but not too hot this day. The wind was not strong but it was continuous. It made taking pictures of flowers tough. They swayed back and forth endlessly. This proved to be a problem all day long. I brought both my Canon 4 megapixel and my old Olympus 1.3 megapixel digital cameras. The Canon is far superior in most regards but the Olympus is much better at close up shots. The combination proved to be very effective. Not only that but I managed to fill the entire memory card on the Canon. In total I took 227 photos in only 7 hours. That is a one day record by far.

     Last year I was here in March. The balsamroot had not yet begun to bloom but there were other flowers I had not seen before. This year the balsamroot were everywhere. The small creek was barely flowing as the snow melt has been gone for some time now. All along this little creek it is green with grasses and bright with flowers. There was also an unending sound of birds calling I saw several birds that do not live on the wet side of the mountains. One larger bird had white wing tips and a very long tail. The route left the creek and began to climb up to the top of a rib coming down from the Umtanum crest. Views began to open up. A little piece of the Yakima River came into sight. I could see over the north rim of Umtanum Canyon and out to Table Mountain and Mission Peak. The Stuart Range also came into view. This open country is so different than hiking the forests of the Cascades.

     Part way up the rib I came to the "gate". Most of an old barbed wire fence is gone but the gate is still there. After walking through it the grade began to steepen. The last 350' are the hardest. On a hot summer afternoon it must be brutal. On a moderately warm spring day it was no problem at all. I was wearing long pants as usual on this trip. The route is the home of a few million ticks. It is not possible to hike it without brushing against tall grass and sagebrush. I would not advise hiking it with shorts unless you are prepared to watch closely and remove ticks. After the last short steep climb I reached the summit and the Yakima Skyline trail/road. I find it easier to descend where I reached the top. I place a line of rocks a little way into the road. This makes it easy to find my spot when returning. Without trees or obvious markers the ridge looks almost the same.

     Last year I turned right on the road and followed it to the high point of the Skyline trail. This time I turned left. My number one priority was finding blooming cactus. I had never seen them in full bloom on the ridge. My feeble memory was of seeing cactus down the ridge to the southeast many years ago. With only an old memory to go by I headed off. The internet report I saw last week did show blooming cactus so I knew they were up there somewhere. The ridge is never level as it rises and drops and twists and turns. Once on top I had a view of Mt. Adams. A little farther along and Mt. Rainier came into view. Many people do not realize how far south I-90 goes as it moves east. Umtanum Ridge is just south of Ellensburg but it is also directly east of the summit of Mt. Rainier. That puts it east of a point between Olympia and Centralia. That location gives great views of Adams and Rainier.

     The yellow and blue flower show improved as the ridge descended. One steep drop was down a hillside of closely packed sunflowers, balsamroot, and lupine. They were as thick as anything I have ever seen. Along the road I met three women hiking out. They were the first people I had seen since the trailhead. Half way down the steep drop I spied a reddish color just off the road. It was a cactus in full bloom! Close by was another and another and another...This small area was loaded with blooming cactus. Off went my pack and out came both cameras. I spent a good long while photographing here. The wind made it hard to get a good shot of the yellows and blues but the cactus provided no such problem. As I began to descend again I saw that the cactus were gone. This one area held most of the cactus I saw.

     When the road/trail began to make it's final plunge towards Roza and the Yakima River I stopped. This was my lunch spot and turn around point. I was surprised to see that there was a truck parked just off the road below me. I was only about 400' below where I reached the ridge top but with ups and downs I had much more to gain going back. I was not in a hurry on the return as I stopped to take many more photos. The biggest problem was having the flowers waving in the wind and the high overhead sun. It was difficult not to have my own shadow in the photo. I came upon a part of a large backpacking group. This was their 5th loop trip on an Umtanum - Roza loop. They had great weather for it. I soon passed more and more of the group. I also saw four mountain bikers zooming by me. I did not envy pushing a bike back up the steep loose gravel on their return. I did learn from the backpackers where there was another area of cactus and made a short detour to see them. With all the feet of those backpackers I thought that my return spot marker might have been kicked away. I need not have worried. When I reached the spot there was now a line of rocks reaching nearly all the way across the road. A word of thanks to the industrious person who did it.

     The way down was an easy stroll through the flowers. I left the ridge top at 2:30 and ran into the usual afternoon hikers. Two groups were climbing up in the now warmer afternoon sun. One group had big overnight backpacks. I guess this is a much more popular backpacking area than I realized. The lack of water makes it a challenge. At a leisurely pace and with many photo stops it took me 1 1/2 hours to come down. By 4:00 I was back across the Yakima. This is always a nice spring hike but I would say that this was the best flower show I have seen here. All totaled I hiked about 10 miles with 2800' gained.

Suspension Bridge
Start Of Trail
Pale Colored  Flowers
Yellow Flowers
Ridge Crest
Near Top Of Rib
Pale Blue Flower
Umtanum Ridge Crest
View North
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Photo Page 2

Trips - 2004