Umtanum Canyon

Janet was heading east for a winter hike up Umtanum Canyon and I tagged along. We met in Bellevue at 6:30 am before the sun rose. A great colorful sunrise presented itself. After a stop in Cle Elum we exited the freeway on Canyon Road and drove down the Yakima River Canyon. There were only two cars in the lot when we arrived at 8:30. It was a little chilly but not as cold as I feared. Low clouds were overhead much of the way from Snoqualmie Pass but it was mostly clear as we set out.

The route begins by crossing a suspension bridge over the Yakima River. The trail used to cross over the railroad tracks but that is now blocked off and a short detour takes you under the end of the railroad bridge over Umtanum Creek. I have hiked up to the top of Umtanum Ridge many times from this trailhead but had not gone very far up the valley. Most of this day's route would be new to me.

The turn off heading up Umtanum Ridge occurs just after the railroad tracks. Our route followed the left side of the creek. In late spring the creek is pretty small. This day it was wide and deep. We had some warning as a trip report from the past weekend showed the roaring creek at the first crossing one mile in. We had light shoes packed for the creek crossings. The valley will be full of color in a few weeks but for now the trees and bushes are mostly bare. Only sagebrush has some color.

The first crossing came up quickly and it was broad and deep. I"m 6'4" and Janet is 6'2" so our long legs helped. We crossed at an angle towards the current and the water was knee deep. No problem. Other than the time to take off boots, put on creek crossing shoes, and reverse the process four times the crossings were not too bad. The trail mostly follows just above the creek though at times it climbs a bit and moves farther from the creek.

The many bard white trees provided start contrast to the dark shaded walls of the valley. Also some of the bushes have new limbs colored a dark red. Some spring color is just beginning. Janet pointed out apple trees as we passed by an old homestead. The second creek crossing was a little more interesting. At the narrowest point I reached out and plunged my hiking pole down. I almost buried the whole pole. It was more than waist deep. A nearby wider spot looked better. The current was very strong but with poles we were able to slog across. Maybe a little more than knee deep.

As we were preparing to cross we saw a lone hiker on the other side. He continued down along that side of the creek. Was there a way to avoid both creek crossings? We decided to check it out on the way back. The trail remained easy to follow. Some spots were a little overgrown but it was not a problem. Ticks are my main concern on this trail. It is a magnet for rattlesnakes but they usually don't come out until the days get warmer. We did not see any snakes this day. We did have long pants and long sleeves because of the tick concern.

We saw where the creek had become a large lake and figured it must be because of beaver dams. Hunting around we found numerous beaver felled trees though none looked to be recent. This lake I named "Middle Umtanum Lake" we found upper and lower lakes too. Much of the way on the south side of the creek was in shade as the sun is not yet high enough to reach over the wall of the canyon. In one spot it does and Janet noticed a large bush that was covered in new green leaves. Just a little sun and the valley will "spring" to life.

A nice sunny spot provided for a good lunch break. Farther up the valley the sky was cloudy. Behind us it was mostly sunny. We continued on and soon came to another crossing. This one was wide and deep. A beaver dam forced any crossing to be below it. Janet's GPS showed we were now about 3 miles up the trail. The route had been getting brushier as fewer folks make it this far up. The hiking guide mentions a number of more crossings higher up. For all these reasons we chose to turn around at this point.

Hiking back was easy and the day had warmed considerably. If not for ticks I would have been comfortable in shorts and short sleeves. We stopped at Middle Umtanum Lake and bushwhacked a short way to the beaver dam that created the lake. It is still in fine shape. A few minutes later I spotted yellow out of the corner of my eye. Looking down I saw a dozen blooming buttercups. How had we missed them coming in? Did they open after we came by? I'm not sure if I have ever seen blooming wildflowers in February before. It was an unexpected treat.

At the creek crossing we decided to try the trail that we saw the lone hiker take along the side of the creek. It started out promising but soon turned into bushwhacking. With a mile to the main trail at the next crossing we thought better of it and went back to the crossing. The water seemed a little higher now but not enough to cause any problems. As we sat down to change back into boots Janet noticed movement high on the ridge above. She saw three big horn sheep. Out came cameras and we managed a few long range shots.

Now we just had easy walking and one more creek crossing to go. When we had climbed up above the creek Janet spotted another lake and a very long beaver dam. I dropped down the slope and headed over to explore. The ground was marshy and every other bush had long sharp stickers. It  must have looked comical as I tried to avoid all the brush and periodically sank into the muck. I did get close to the dam and found what might have been the beaver's lodge. A neat unexpected treat. I was surprised to have only seen one person. I figured the first creek crossing would stop most people but a few would just slog across. I think only three of us made past the first crossing.

After the last crossing we did start to see more people. On couple passed us and headed down to the creek. A minute later they came back. Not to their liking. The last mile went quickly and we were soon back at the car. Though we had seen few people there were now more than 20 cars in the lot. It was nice to get out of Western Washington for a change. No snow and spring like temperatures were nice too. Thought spring colors are not here yet we did see a few flowers and the stark leafless trees had a beauty all their own. Thanks for inviting me along Janet, I had a great time.

Suspension Bridge
Umtanum Creek
Easy Walking
Bare Trees
Stark White Trees
First Creek Crossing
A Little Color
Dark & Light
Second Creek Crossing
Colorful Wall
New Red Branches
Middle Umtanum Lake
Tree Hugger
One Green Bush
Rock Cairn
Turn Around Point
East Side Moss
Last Year's Color
Bare & Color
Yellow & Red
Umtanum Lake Dam
What Is It?
Neat Lighting
Last Shot
Bighorn Sheep
On The Sunny Side
Orange Tree
Light On Dark
Beaver Dam
Beaver Lodge?
More Blue Sky
Big Stump
Final Crossing
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2010