Black Canyon

I did not have any plans for Saturday. Kim mentioned she and Janet and Kirsten were heading east to Black Canyon. I had not been there and tagged along on their trip. It's a long drive so we met at the SE 8th Park and Ride at 7:15 AM. It had snowed the day before all over the Seattle area. I had enough to cover my cars and Janet, farther north, had enough to build a snowman. Very strange weather for past mid April. We had some snow and slush on the road over Snoqualmie Pass but little traffic. Beyond Easton we could see some blue sky to the east.

Our route was to take Exit 109 at Ellensburg and then go on Umptanum Road to to Wenas Road and the trailhead. Its a little under 25 miles from the start of Umptanum Road. First we had to get a Fish & Wildlife parking permit. That required a side trip to the Bi-Mart in Ellensburg. Uptanum Road was snow free over Ellensburg Pass and in pretty good shape. There were a few rocky patches but little mud.

We found the turnoff on the Wenas Road, drove to the gate and on to the parking spot. There is room at the end of the road for about 3 cars but we parked just before that at a larger grassy spot. The road was a little rough but no problem with Janet's Subaru Outback. There was one truck parked and the owners came back as we were getting ready to go. They only went up to the cabin and came right back. It was chilly but partly sunny as we got underway.

We had some light snow on the drive from Ellensburg. The good news is that I was hiking on dirt for a change. The route is all on an old road. The canyon starts right about where we parked. The road starts with a moderately steep grade which was good to help us warm up. A few small flowers were blooming almost immediately. Kim found interesting things to photograph where the rest of us didn't and fell behind. She managed to keep finding interesting things all the way up and down.

After a mile or so we came to the old cabin. The roof is partly missing but it doesn't look ready to collapse any time soon. There are some very large pine trees near the cabin. I didn't expect to find big trees this high on Umtanum Ridge. We parked at around 2500' and the cabin is around 3200'. Beyond the cabin the early flower show began to pick up. We found yellow bells, buttercups, and grass widow's in abundance. The first two I have seen often though the latter is not one I recognized.

Kerstin even spotted a lone shooting star along the road. The road has been bermed in a number of spots requiring some climbing up and down to get by. There was a snow bank along the road and I braved climbing all 10 feet or so to the top for a scintillating glissade down. After that we heard a loud concert of croaking from seemingly hundreds of frogs. A short detour took us to a large pond but as we neared the croaking came to an immediate stop.

It was a little overcast now and getting colder. We stopped for lunch off the road in a partly snow covered meadow. A group of ORVs went by. We saw those folks again on the ridge top. They were the only other folks we saw on the trail all day. Our leisurely pace meant that it took nearly 3 hours to make it about 2 1/2 miles. Still, it was fun to explore and photograph so much.

After lunch we hit the road and headed up to the ridge top. Kirsten had been up here one year earlier but they did not make it to the ridge. The road had a few snow patches but is nearly bare now. On the ridge top we could see down to Ellensburg. The mountains were most all in the clouds. Umtanum Ridge ungulated up and down in both directions. It looked like an easy climb to the higher point to our right.

While it was cloudier than when we started the views were still not that bad. We decided to do the loop along the ridge and back down to the road just above the cabin. I'm sure there would be great views out to the Stuart Range and maybe Mt. Rainier on a clear day. Our high point was a little over 3900'. The ridge top had many more yellow bells, buttercups, and grass widows. We did see some desert bluebells at places on the route as well. There are lots of bitterroot plants though none are close to flowering yet. Should be lots of pink up there in a month or so.

As we hiked along the ridge the wind began to pick up. It wasn't gusting but was just steady and ice cold. We dropped a little then began a climb to another high point. The wind was now really cold. Even with my hood on my ears and face were going a little numb. A few small snow flurries fell off and on. The road continued farther along the ridge and I voted to head straight down. We went a short ways and the wind lightened considerably. After a short drop we could see a road below. That became our new destination.

The slope was not too steep and we worked our way though patches of sagebrush. There may have been ticks here but we were all covered from head to toe because of the cold. Once back on the road we had an easy descent back to the road we had come up. From there it was just a road walk out. We had more patches of sun followed by dark clouds, snow, and who knows what. Janet and I reached the car first and just after we had our gear packed away it started dumping big hail stones. Yep, we had just about every type of weather there is.

On our route home we chose to make a loop of it. We turned left on the Wenas Road and followed it back to Selah. From there we took Highway 82 back to I-90. We stopped at Rodeo City in Ellensburg for dinner. Not bad food. Finally we were heading west. By the time Janet dropped us off and I dropped off Kim and Kerstin it was 9:10 as I walked through my door. That was nearly 15 hours after I left that morning. It was a long day but a fun one.

Any trip with Janet, Kim, and Kirsten will be fun. They are not a group that will be discussing serious matters all day. That was great with me. We had a good time on a trail that was new to three of us. It was a nice break from all the snow I've been on since last November. The flowers were far from their peak but still there was a nice early snow. I would love to come back when the bitterroot, balsamroot, and lupine are in full bloom.

Kerstin's report is here:   Nwhikers Report & Photos

Black Canyon
Getting Ready
Wenas Valley Below
First Flowers
Prairie Star
Canyon Wall
Fuzzy Leaves
Old Cabin
Inside Cabin
More Bluebells
Lingering Snow
Snow Angel
Close Up Buttercup
More Buttercups
Grass Widow
Another Widow
Janet & Camera
Tiny Flower
What's Going On?
Ridge Top View
Kirsten & Clouds
More Clouds
Rolling Terrain
Really Close Up
Ridge Top Roaming
Cross Country Descent
A Hail Of A Time
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2008