Mission Ridge - Devils Gulch Loop
I hiked up Mission Ridge in 1991. I came back in 1992
and hiked the Devils Gulch trail to the final crossing of Mission Creek.
That just left a couple miles I had not done. I planned to come back and
do the whole loop. 13 years later I set out to finish the job. I was on the
road by 6:30 AM. There was no traffic. I had nobody in front of me from Bothell
to near Leavenworth. I reached the 1750' trailhead at 9:10 AM. It is 138
miles from Ballard to the Devils Gulch trailhead. There were half a dozen
motorcycles revving their motors when I arrived. 10 minutes later I was
ready to go and they were still revving their motors. How long does it take
to warm up a motorcycle. They took off and immediately turned onto the Red
Devil trail. I started off at 9:20 under a clear blue sky. The Mission Ridge
trail turns off quickly and begins to climb.
The trail climbs at a steady pace. Bright green grass forms the ground
cover much of the way. The forest is a mix of fir and pine. For the most
part the route switchbacks near the crest of the ridge. Waterleaf was found
in many spots, especially at lower elevations. I saw a few indian paintbrush
early then no more anywhere on the loop. Balsamroot was blooming in some
spots but much of the blooms are still to come. I recalled several very steep
rutted sections and they have mostly been rerouted. Several times switchbacks
replaced ruts straight up the ridge line. As I had small views south over
Tronson Ridge I could see a line of clouds. Of course, they held off until
I had climbed over 3000'. I had the cooler shade for the hike down.
There is only 3100' net gain from the trailhead to the 4840' high point
on the trail. There are also many ups and downs along the ridge. Figure
on at least 400' of additional ups.
In some places the nice switchbacks and traverses give way to short very
steep climbs. At 4000' I began to see trilliums. I don't think of them growing
this far east but there were hundreds along the trail. Soon fields of glacier
lilies were mixed in with the trillium. With no signs of recent snow I did
not expect to find so many peaking glacier lilies and so few that were finished.
Rocky ridge top sections had phlox covering the ground. I planned to stop
for lunch at 12:00 but decided I had to get to the high point before taking
a break. The ups and downs continued until finally at 4840' the route turned
downward. I had nice views of Tronson Ridge and northeast out into Eastern
Washington. There was one small snow patch just off the trail. It was the
only snow to be seen all day.
I felt like I was making good time but it still took me from 9:20 to 12:34
to finish the ascent. The 100 Hikes book lists the distance as 7 1/2 miles.
After a short lunch I began the descent. The trail follows a gentle grade
all the way down. After a number of switchbacks I reached the intersection
with the Devils Gulch Trail. The Mission Ridge trail continued on several
miles to the Beehive Road. I turned right and continued the descent. A short
way down I met the first person all day. He was pedaling his mountain bike
up the trail. within less than a mile I passed three more bikers coming uphill.
Some were pedaling and some walking their bikes. After dropping about 1100'
I reached Mission Creek. The creek was flowing fairly strong but I managed
to rock hop across with dry feet.
The descent seemed longer than the 2 miles listed in the guide based on
the 50 minutes it took me to hike down from the high point. Now down at
the creek, I just had another 2000' to lose over 7 1/2 miles. In Devils
Gulch the trillium continued down to near 3000'. There are a number of side
creek crossings and all were easy. Most of them will be dry in another month.
I think of the gulch as being nearly desert like but it is in fact quite
lush. Higher up it travels through forest. Much of the way is side hilling
but in several places it follows the valley bottom. The first crossing of
Mission Creek was via rock hop. The creek is pretty high but not too wide.
Again I maintained dry feet. The last crossing of the creek was a bit more
difficult. I stopped for the second break of the day to figure out how to
keep my feet dry. Getting across was not a problem, it was just keeping
out of the water that was. I managed a leap to a wet, mostly submerged rock
and again avoided the water.
From there it was just a nice walk down the trail. At one rocky section
I noticed several clumps of Tweedy Lewisia in full bloom. It was only the
third time I have seen this flower in over 20 years wandering the Eastern
Cascade slopes. In the last few miles I passed 3 motorcycles heading out
and was passed by 1 mountain biker coming back. I noticed the Red Hill intersection
now has trail signs. I walked right by it on a Red Hill hike a year or two
back. The usual balsamroot show near the end was muted. Perhaps in a few
weeks it will be better. I finally crossed the bridge back to the trailhead
at 4:03. I hiked 17+ miles with 3800' gained in 6 hours 43 minutes. Break
time amounted to less than 20 minutes.
This turned out to be a terrific day in the mountains. Although this is
known as a motorcycle racetrack I saw only 3 other than the half dozen that
started just ahead of me. I never heard any motors while on the ridge and
the sound does carry. 5 mountain bikers and zero hikers rounded out the
day. This route is a good conditioner with lots of distance and elevation
gain. While not at their peak the flower display was excellent. I certainly
did not expect the lewisia. The weather also was nearly ideal as it was
sunny in the morning and partly overcast in the afternoon. Most of the day
was around 70 degrees. I definitely had much more solitude than I expected.
My good luck held as there was no backup at all on Highway 2 coming home.
All in all, the day was well worth the 276 mile drive.
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.
Mission Creek Bridge
Photo Page 2
Trips - 2005