Forest marveling

  • 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 canopy illuminating trunks, boughs, and the forest floor – well, it was another slow and admiration-filled morning.

Old-growth forests enliven the senses. The trunks of massive trees are columns rising to the sky. But there is space and light between the giants for other vegetation and beings – 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 positions itself to maximize exposure for photosynthesis, how shrubs, lilies, ferns, mosses, other plants, and lichens arrange themselves – just so to seek out light. 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 glowing big trees.

Encountering hillsides cleared by avalanches, we transitioned from glowing forests into ferny, slide alder thickets with plants heavy with dew. Drenching our closes and covering our faces in spores of brackernfern and fireweed fluff. We turned on brush bash mode and got to work making 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 and worth taking time to linger and enjoy!

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 are dense thickets of hemlock, alder, and Douglas-fir with few plants growing in the understory. 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 ground 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 side stream we crossed. We would have been tempted to stop in at Goldmyer Hot Springs – right 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. It is marvelous, 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 fantastic view of Garfield from here. Recent slides have also taken out the 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 Snoqualmie 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. The campground felt like we were entering civilization: table, potable water, pit toilet, and trash service. Such luxuries!

I realize some people get to this same campground and feel like they are in a remote spot with few services. Perspectives.

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 (such as 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 a 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.


Oak fern, bunchberry, twisted stock, and other plants elegantly arrange themselves. Photo by Gabriel Deal


The forest begins to glow radiant in morning light.


Tiger lily. This one makes me think of a poetry I transcribed in 4th or 5th grade thanks to Mrs. Mapes and William Blake: “Tyger Tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night; What immortal hand or eye, Could frame thy fearful symmetry?”


The sun is just breaking into the valley of the Middle Fork.


Burnt Boot Peak and an avalanche slope – this one with less dewy bracken fern and slide alder.


Wild ginger in flower.


Mukmuk took a (quick) shower along the trail.


Nice guy and beautiful big tree.


Trail magic!!!! We found this cider and box along the side of the trail about -about 4 miles from camp. We did “our duty” and packed it out. A nice treat in camp that night.


Bunchberry! Lower down in the valley the flowers are transforming into their cheery orange fruits. In the upper valley they are flowering.


Nice forest and thimble berries.


Walking across the slide. Not bad travel – but not recommended.


The bad news: the Middle Fork Trail was wiped out by the slide. The good news: there is now an incredible view of Garfield Peak.


The classic Garfield Peak and Middle Fork Snoqualmie River view. Should have had Mukmuk join this picture as I can’t do the river and mountain justice.


We made it to the Gateway Bridge!


Crossing the bridge.


Camping in civilization!