A Springtime Hike in the Hills

Five miles is a heck of a way to start hiking season.

One of the benefits of being self-employed with an extremely flexible schedule is the ability to enjoy outdoor activities any day of the week. I abhor crowds so I try to do my hikes and bike rides and other activities when most folks are at work or school: in other words, mid-week.

My friend Susan is the same way. A retired attorney from the Seattle side of the mountains, she also likes to hike mid-week. So when a mutual friend introduced us last autumn, we seemed like a perfect match for hiking.

She got in touch last week when I was in California. I was crazy busy that week and expecting contractors to work on my home Friday and Monday, so we settled on Wednesday for a midday hike. The weather had been unseasonably warm, getting up into the high 60s every day, and the high desert landscape in the Wenatchee area was green and already studded with spring flowers. It would be an early start to the hiking season and, after spending too much time working on my home and traveling over the past few months, I really liked the idea of a day off.

I made a Home Depot/Lowe’s run in the morning with the thought of dropping off my purchases and meeting Sue at her home at 12:30 PM as planned. I didn’t expect to take nearly two hours in Home Depot and then wait 30 minutes in Lowe’s for them to bring my special order out. (Seriously: what is it with Lowe’s? This is the second consecutive time I’ve had to wait an unreasonable amount of time for them to bring an order out.) So when I got to Sue’s at 12:30, my Jeep was too full of lumber for Sue to fit. That meant running home to drop off my purchases. We didn’t get on the road to the trail until nearly 1:30.

Fortunately, the trailhead was close. To stay out of the wind, Sue had suggested Dry Gulch, which goes up a canyon. I wasn’t familiar with the trail names — I normally just hiked wherever there was a trail that looked good — and didn’t realize that I had hiked there once before with another friend back in the summer of 2012. It would be a bit of a climb and, since I suspected I was coming down with a cold, I wasn’t sure I was up to it. I warned Sue that I might not last very long and she said she understood. First hike of the season wasn’t expected to be long anyway.

Saddle Rock
Saddle Rock, from the southern trailhead near the end of Miller Street.

The trail had a surprising number of people on it, including kids. That’s when I realized it was spring break week. Most people prefer the hike up to Saddle Rock, which shares a parking lot. It’s a steep, exposed trail, not suitable for our first hike of the season on a windy day. It has amazing, sweeping views of downtown Wenatchee and beyond, which is one of the reasons it’s so popular. Dry Gulch was good enough for me. I don’t need to hike up a mountain to get views.

The trail climbs up an old road grade into a canyon crossed by one earthen dam after another. Up canyon from each damn is a dry (right now) pond. After climbing pretty steadily for about a mile, the trail crosses a larger dam. This is the point at which my friend and I had turned around back in 2012, going down a different trail. But Sue and I continued up the north side of Dry Gulch on a very easy, nearly flat trail that wound along the edge of the dry reservoir. (We basically took the green “A” trail on this map.)

Dry Gulch
You can see down into Wenatchee from various points on the Dry Gulch trail.

Penny on the Trail
There are various rock formations on either side of the trail. This one was particularly beautiful, surrounded by blooming trees with green grass and balsamroot flowers at its foot. Can you see Penny?

As we hiked, we chatted about all kinds of things. Sue is really into geology and fossils and gave me a little lesson on the area’s rocks. She also pointed out a place where she’d found some good leaf fossils in the past. We took our time climbing the first mile of easy trail, making several rest stops along the way.

Penny spent about half the time leashed; once we got beyond where the other hikers were, I let her loose to run around a bit. There were marmots in the area making a bird-like chirping noise. Every once in a while, we’d catch sight of one running on the slopes. Penny obviously smelled them and even caught sight of a few of them on our return hike. I think her experiences with our barn cats, which are about the same size, taught her to keep her distance.

I was quite surprised to see lupine blooming up the trail; it’s just starting to come up at my home. Can you see the bumblebee?

After the dam, we turned left on the trail to continue up the gulch. This was, by far, my favorite part of the hike. The trail followed the edge of the reservoir but was much higher, looking down at it. After passing through a locked gate — we had to slide sideways between the rails — the trail narrowed and wound among balsamroot and lupines. We passed various signs of old mining activity, including low concrete walls at the mouths of side canyons. It was quiet — not another soul was on this part of the trail. We saw evidence of deer and elk — hoofprints and droppings. Cows and horses, too.The canyon narrowed considerably and the trail nearly dead-ended at an old dam. Its gate was gone and a trickle of water from upstream meandered through. It was cool and shady. A nice place for a picnic.

End of TrailThe trail continued as a narrow ribbon up into the canyon past the point where we turned back.

By this time, I’d had enough of the hike. I was surprised I’d come as far as I did — even though I didn’t know at the time how far we’d walked. About a quarter mile into the hike back, I remembered to turn on my GPS tracker. When I turned it off back at the Jeep an hour later, it reported a total of 2.2 miles. That brings the total length of the hike up to about five miles. Whoa. Not bad for a first hike of the season.

It had been a great hike — just the right length for me on that day. It’s unfortunate that my favorite part of the trail required a mile-long uphill hike to reach. I’d like to find more trails like that with trailheads easier to get to. I can hike all day on level ground or even downhill, but uphill has always been a bit of a struggle for me.

After dropping off Sue, I drove home and took a nice, long soak in my tub. An hour later, I was dead asleep in a two-hour nap. Let’s see if that rest is enough to fight off this cold.

What do you think?