Up the trailAfter hiking up Goat Mtn north of Mt. St. Helens the day before, Bob and I decided to just sleep in our cars at the rest area outside of Packwood off of Highway 12. Not a bad choice as it put us close to a good restaurant for breakfast in Packwood and close to the TH for Purcell Mountain.
The day before, we had stopped at the ranger station in Randle and found out that there was a huge log blocking FR 63 about a mile beyond where the TH for the Purcell Mtn trail is located. Originally we had planned to do the shorter route from the northwest side of the peak which is accessed by logging roads that wrap around Purcell Mtn on its north and northwest aspects. It became a moot point though when we found that there wasn't access up FR 63 and so we just decided to go ahead and hike it as outlined in the 100 Hikes in the So. Cascade book showed.
We had our breakfast, yummmmm, and found ourselves at the trailhead at 8:40 a.m. Bob had mentioned that we had to cross a good sized creek so I threw my sandals and a small towel into my pack to allow for getting us across the creek with some decent footwear to aid us against the rocky bottom. The sandals proved themselves both coming and going.
There actually isn't an official trailhead, just a wide spot where the road curves a bit but big enough to pull our two vehicles off of the road nicely. Before we parked though, we drove up the road in my truck to see about the log the ranger had mentioned and sure enough, a huge tree was blocking the road about a mile up. It would take a BIG saw and a BIG crew to get that puppy out of the way and the ranger had said they didn't even have a road crew planned for that road until sometime in July. Well, no problem, after Goat Mtn the day before, we were up for another decent hike as it never hurts to get some more conditioning in.
We parked and put our day packs on and grabbed our rain gear too as the skies started spitting on us and the vegetation we had to walk through was good at dumping its water on us as we pushed our way through it in many spots as the trail seemed to be reverting back to nature as maintainance on this trail seemed rather distant. An old road, now bermed to keep vehicles off of it, drops down from FR 63 to a point where Davis Creek is encountered. At one time a bridge spanned the creek but that bridge was long gone so it was necessary to find a spot to ford the creek, which was running about two feet deep and was ice cold from snowmelt above.
We worked our way along the east bank, carefully grabbing onto vegetation in spots to a place where we could ford the creek at the best location. I put the sandals on, stuck my dry boots and socks in my day pack and went across. Once across, I tossed the sandals over to Bob who repeated my crossing. With our boots back on, we headed up the bank to where the old roadbed was and continued up it to where it was bermed. In many spots, trees have fallen across the old road and you just need to work your way around or under them. The old road comes a sudden stop as a huge berm blocks further passage but it is at this point where the true trail starts for Purcell Mtn. A sign marks the way and we found our way heading up the trail as it headed into the 2nd growth forest. Many parts of this trail are getting dimmer and without future maintainance, this trail will most likely disappear due to the growth that is occuring. Still, that will be several years away and we could follow it just fine.
The trail switchbacked up several times but always pleasantly so. Then after a couple miles, the trail entered old growth forest and we continued on as it gained elevation up the side of the mountain. Snow patches were now making an appearance but for the most part the trail was in the open.
The trail then started up an open slope and a couple of wash outs in the trail had to be negotiated although they presented only a brief slowing of our progress up the hillside. Then we hit the danger zone = Mountain rodents of some kind had burrowed all over the slopes and whether you were on trail or slope, you had to watch your step as often your foot would plunge through and drop you a foot or so. Ankle twisting potential or even ankle busting potential was the order of the day so it required you pay attention to your speed and your foot placement.
Soon the slope gave away to snow and soon the trail disappeared for big chunks. No matter, as we had the peak GPS'd and we just simply aimed ourselves in the proper heading. As we headed up through the snow and the woods, some snowflakes came drifting down but I always prefer that to rain. About the time that we hit the final slope up to the summit, the clouds lifted a bit and we began to see a little bit of the surrounding countryside but never enough to see the tops of the peaks.
Mt. Rainier was out there but we couldnt see it. A few times we could see some of the base but the clouds just never really lifted enough to give us the views we wanted. At one point, we could look down and see US 12 to the south but that was about as good as it got. The summit area consisted of some cement pillars and lots of broken glass and nails and bolts. I looked in vain for a benchmark but never found one and Bob checked for a register.
We had our snacks, made a couple cell calls to our wives and headed back down, realizing that some day we might have to return to see what kind of a view we missed. Such is hiking in the northwest, you can't afford to wait for perfect weather because if you did, you would most likely never leave the confines of your home. It was still a great day, spent in the out of doors and hiking with Bob is always fun.