- Day 11, July 25: 17.9 miles, total miles: 329.8 – all on trail
- Parks, Trails & Places of Significance: Dutch Miller Gap Trail 1030, Middle Fork Snoquamile Trail 1003, big trees, berries, Goldmyer hot springs, Gateway Bridge, Middle Fork campground
A day of forest walking and marveling is easy to do when one’s morning starts in towering old-growth groves of Douglas-fir, western hemlock, Alaska yellow and red cedars, and Pacific silver firs. In between the big trees the forest floor was covered in a carpet of greenery and flowers; fine elegant details to admire in flowering bunchberry or lacy oak fern. When the sun’s first rays of light filtered through the trees illuminating trunks, boughs, and the forest floor – well, it was another slow and admiration-filled morning.
Old-growth forests enliven the senses – the massive trees are columns rising to the sky, but there is enough space and light between the giants for others to live – from the duff on the forest floor all the way up to the tallest tree crowns. There is so much to observe – how each leaf of a vine maple is arranged to maximize leaf exposure for photosynthesis, how shrubs, lilies, ferns, mosses, other plants, and lichens arrange themselves – just so. Milipedes crawling about the duff. Squirrels chattering on the limbs of snags. Each level of the forest canopy is occupied and used by different inhabitants. The energy coursing through these ecosystems is palpable. We oohed and awed the first hours of the day walking amid big trees.
Transitioning into ferny, slide alder on avalanche slopes the plants were dewy and in our faces. We went into brush bash mode and started to make our way down to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail in earnest. But oh the upper miles of the Dutch Miller Gap Trail in the old-forest up to the Cascade Crest – they are stunning!
We were on the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Trail by mid-morning and stayed on it until the end of our day.* Further down valley a few old-growth patches remain along the trail – but much of the valley has been logged in the last hundred years. Some second growth stands are maturing, others still dense thickets of hemlock, alder, and Douglas-fir. The trail through these young stands consists of old logging roads and railroad grades. Straight line corridors that are less enticing to the senses, but one benefit is that they make covering easy.
There was still plenty of nice mossy forest to take breaks in – where we could sit and work on naming every plant growing near by. Being another warm day – we were happy to have tree cover for shade. Sometimes the river coursed by our side, other times we were hundreds of feet above the water on a terrace or bench. To help keep cool, we dipped our hats in every stream we crossed. We would have been tempted to stop in at Goldmyer Hot Springs – on our route – to soak in the pools along Burnt Boot Creek, but a hot day doesn’t make hot springs sound very refreshing.
Late afternoon on the Middle Fork Trail did have a few reasons for us to slow down: abundant berries! Thimble berries, huckleberries, blue berries – bushes weighed down by delicious berries. Staining our fingers purple and our packs red. We grazed as we hiked – delighting in this delicious gift from the forest. I marvel at the ability of plants to transform light into such sweet fruits.
Close to the end of the Middle Fork Trail and our planned stop for the night at the campground we reached the landslide we’d heard about.* The trail abruptly dropped about six feet where the slope had slummed off. Pin flags and flagging pointed a way – so we trekked across the debris field. Trees a jumble at the toe – there’s now a marvelous view of Garfield from here. Slides have also taken out cragging on the Fee Demo Wall.
We stopped at the Gateway Bridge to take in the views of Garfield glowing in the evening light, the peaceful river (not the wild roaring rapids we walked by 15 miles upstream). I couldn’t resist a quick half dip in the waters of the Middle Fork to dust off before we headed to the campground (that wasn’t here 15 years ago). Invigorated by the cool water, we made our way to our stopping place for the night – which felt like were entering civilization: table, potable water, pit toilet, and trash service. Such luxuries!
The Gateway Bridge is a landmark in the valley and symbolizes the latest transformation of the Middle Fork’s character from outlaw country to a Puget Sound recreation destination. Since the 1990s the Middle Fork has seen changes, some little by little – while others have been major leaps (paving the road to the campground).
Of course, the valley – like everything – is constantly changing at all sorts of scales including geologic and floodplain dynamics, vegetation structure, human occupation, the care and use of its resources, and ease of access. This current era marks the change of the Middle Fork from illegal garbage dump and less-on-the-radar mountain wandering, fishing, and hunting spot to a popular, parking lot-is-full, campground booked hot spot. At least there are good stewards in this current shift as local, state, and federal agencies and many local non-profits try to guide the growth and foster a sense of care in visitors to the Middle Fork Valley. I’m especially grateful to Friends of the Trail, Forterra, and the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust for protecting, cleaning up, and stewarding this area.
*Note: We didn’t know the trail was officially closed until we got to its western terminus – where there was sign stating so. But there had not been a sign earlier on our route. Given the closure – we’d recommend road walking from Dingford Creek or exploring a cross country alternate to the Taylor River Trail and out to the campground.