Westberg Trail To Observatory

Gary was free for a hike. We wanted to get in some good mileage and elevation and see some east of the crest spring wildflowers. The most popular wildflower hikes would be mobbed as the colors were near peak. We chose an old favorite that has folks hiking the first 2 miles up but provides a lot of solitude farther out. I have done this trip four or five times. This would be Gary's second time. The small parking area fills up early on a sunny spring day so we left early for a nearly two hour drive. We planned to meet at the Manastash Ridge-Westberg Trailhead at 8:00 am. I was on the way at 5:45 am. I planned to stop for gas on the way. It was mostly overcast on the west side. The forecast had Seattle partly sunny and Ellensburg completely sunny though only in the mid 60s. From Easton on it was all sunshine. I left I-90 at exit 101 and I arrived at the trailhead at about 7:42 and Gary was already there. This was half an hour earlier than I usually arrive. There were plenty of parking spots open. Though only in the upper 40s with sunshine it was pleasantly warm. We packed up and were on our way at 7:48.

We decided to head up the Westberg Trail. It is the one most in the open with good views out and the sunshine provides a good sampling of wildflowers. We walked down the road and onto the trail. Soon a single mountain biker passed by and took a mountain bike trail. He was the one and only bike we saw all day. We were not surprised to see someone coming down already. Some folks are up early and coming down by 8:00 am. The wildflowers did start almost immediately. Arrowleaf balsamroot was the first wildflower seen in bloom. The sun was still low and we had sunshine above and some shade on the trail. As we began to climb the views appeared behind us to the north. First the farms in the valley and then the mountains behind.. The Start Range was still snow covered.

Next came  looming phlox. White at first but as the day went along we saw pink, red, and other shades. The low sunshine really lit up the big yellow balsamroot flowers. There were a number of yellow flowers in bloom. Hawkweed and various daisies were seen. There was lupine in bloom but not a lot just yet. There were a number of flowers that I recognized but could not recall the names. That is normal each year. On my last visit in 2019 I saw a group of workers working on trails. Part way up we came to an unsigned junction. Straight up is the usual way. We turned right on the new section. The trail looked to be very new. It was longer and less steep than the normal straight up trail. Along here we saw some Indian paintbrush, bluebells, and shooting stars. This will be handy option when descending.

Our route came back to the normal trail and we continued higher. We passed the top of the Boy Scout Trail and after some more straight up the route turned right and climbed at a more gentle grade to the ridge top viewpoint at the ind of the Westberg Trail. So far we had not seen many folks.  We took a short break at the viewpoint. We arrived at 9:34 am and stayed until 9:50 am. It was a bit chilly as there was a little wind. Views out were great. We had hiked only about 2 miles so far with about 1650' of elevation gain. Now we were on a road for the hike west to the University of Washington Observatory. Two folks were hiking behind us at first but they soon turned around and we were on our own. There were wildflowers all along the road but less than on other trips. The big head clover were especially colorful. We began to see some blooming larkspur too. The road is almost never level. It goes down and up and down and up again. Once on the ridge top we had views all around. Umtanum Ridge is to the south.

While still a mile so away we had a look at the observatory. Mt. Rainier also came into view. The top was in the clear but clouds were on both sides and soon covered the mountain. On the last drop before the climb tot he observatory we took a short walk off the road into evergreen trees. The shady grass held some new wildflowers. Grass widows were blooming. I also saw some spring beauty and prairie stars. In 2017 we saw both white grass widows and white violets here. Not this day.  The last climb brought us up to the observatory. An ATV passed us on the road and Gary saw some folks at the observatory as we neared. Once there we were alone. We had mostly solitude so far and it continued much of the way back. It was now 11:21 and time for lunch. I needed a windshirt to stay warm enough. There were some clouds overhead but still a lot of sunshine.

We packed up at 12:01 and headed back. Gary wanted to get in 12 miles and it is only 11 miles to the observatory and back. We needed to go a little farther. To the south the slope was gentle so we headed that way. Now off trail we walked some old roads or just went cross country. It is not hard to do with little underbrush. I spotted some bitterroot with flower pods but they were not quite ready to bloom. They were very close. There were patches of thick blooming balsamroot on our trek. The south facing slopes had some really good balsamroot thickets. Not as good as some other areas but very good. As Gary said the bitterroot flowers per person ratio was very high. We had great colors and no other people.

Our route took us downhill then we headed east  parallel to the road we hiked out on. We had to drop down and climb out of several drainages. We came across a patch of death camas. I took four photos and all four were out of focus. The climb back north to the road took us through a really dense hillside of bright yellow balsamroot. Perhaps the highlight of the day. As we neared the road several more ATVs came by. We waited while they stopped. When the started moving we went back onto the road. There were two more short road spurs to the south. We took both of them. Nice views from the turnaround points. The last few miles back to the Westberg Trail viewpoint seemed to go on a long time.

We had been discussing which route to take back. Last time I the Boy Scout Trail. It was the first descend not on the Westberg Trail. The forested shade was nice. This time we chose the Prater Trail. The start from near th viewpoint was extremely steep with some loose gravel. Not my favorite type of descent. It was a little nerve wracking as we managed to not fall down. It eventually grew less steep but was never gentle. In the forest there was a lot of very green grass and more wildflowers. My legs were feeling it as we neared the bottom. The last bit down was more like a cliff. One steep boot path. We were glad to be back on more level ground. Now we just had a road walk back to Cove Road and then to the cars. We reached the trailhead at 4:31 pm.

This turned out to be a great hike. With an early start we had a lot of solitude on the way up and it kept going all day. We saw just that one bike rider near the start and no hikers from just after the viewpoint to the observatory and back. Just a few ATVs. Two folks followed us down the Prater Trail but once in the trees we did not see them again. It was sunny most of the day with some patchy clouds. The periodic cloud provided shade was all the shade we had until in the trees on the Prater Trail. It was only in the low to mid 60s for a high but all that sun sure made it seen hot. I was late putting on sunscreen and paid for it with some facial burning. That seldom happens and I won't let it happen again this year. We had a little slowdown on th drive home but I was home just before 7:00 pm It was a long and enjoyable day. We logged 12.3 miles with about 2600' of elevation gain.

Balsamroot At The Start
Gary Heading Up
Shade & Sunshine
Desert Parsley?
Close Up Balsamroot
More Balsamroot
Very Close Up
Smaller Yellow Flowers
Sun Lit Flowers
Great Lighting
Bunch Of Phlox
Small Flowers
The Stuart Range
First Lupine
View Of Valley
Purple & Yellow
Douglas Brodiaea
Gary At Work
Pink Phlox
The Moon In The Sky
Yellow Paintbrush
Lone Yellow Flower
Another Brodiaea
Shooting Stars
Small White Flower
Ballhead Waterleaf
Heading To Ridge
Gary & Balsamroot
Great Color
Westberg Viewpoint
Mt. Stuart
More Lupine
Road & Clouds
Bighead Clover
Sage Violet
Mt. Rainier
Spring Beauty
Grass Widow
Bismarck & Aix
Off Trail Balsamroot
Sunshine & Flowers
Prairie Stars
Best Lupine
Solid Balsamroot
Densely Packed
Umtanum Ridge
Afternoon Break Spot
Heading For Viewpoint
Heading Down
Really Steep
More Paintbrush
Grassy Forest
Dropping To Valley
Irrigation Falls
Click on thumbnails to get larger pictures.

Trips - 2021