Saturday, April 18, 2015

Wanderings: Cedar Butte (Olallie State Park)

Last Friday was a gloriously warm, sunny spring day here in Western Washington - a perfect day for exploring a new trail. My husband and I headed out to North Bend to tackle the hike up to Cedar Butte (or Ceder Butt, if you're with the US Geodetic Survey of 1937... but we'll get to that later!).

We took I-90 out to North Bend, and then parked at the trailhead at Iron Horse State Park.  Now this was a bit confusing: although we parked at Iron Horse, I'm almost certain that the actual Cedar Butte trail is located in Olallie State Park; at least that's what the Olallie web site indicates. The trailhead parking lot was also right across the street from the Cedar River Watershed Education Center, and the trail borders the Cedar River Watershed itself. There's a whole lot going on in this little corner of North Bend!

So, we set out from the Iron Horse State Park parking lot, and headed up to the John Wayne Trail, which is a wide graveled trail more than 100 miles long that follows an old railroad path. This part of the trail borders the Cedar River Watershed, and there are signs posted every 50 feet or so sternly warning people not to enter the Watershed.  That's our drinking water, people... let's keep it clean!

Above the sound of our shoes crunching on the graveled trail, I heard the high-pitched, vibrating, trilling buzz of a rufous hummingbird. A moment's search revealed him hovering high in the blue sky over our heads. Then all of a sudden, he dove and plummeted to the ground, then flew way up high and dove again. I'd never seen this behavior before... has anyone else? Please share in the comments if you can shed some light on what was happening there!

After about a half mile on the John Wayne Trail, we crossed a bridge over Boxley Creek, which has interesting historical significance, but we'll get to that later. Shortly thereafter, we found a small sign affixed to a tree on the right hand side of the trail, marking the trailhead for Cedar Butte. Peering into the trees, you can make out the narrow, rugged trail snaking up the hillside. We ducked beneath the branches and started the long, gradual trek up to the 1,870 foot summit of Cedar Butte (the trail itself only has 900 feet of elevation gain, however).

Starting out, I was rather unimpressed. The forest had an open canopy with plenty of sunlight spilling through, and the vegetation appeared dry and brushy and didn't look very healthy. And there was salal growing everywhere - at least in all of the places that weren't filled with brown, dried-out sword ferns. That little rufous hummingbird became our guardian throughout the first half of the hike, and I frequently heard his loud buzzing noise over my left shoulder, or saw him darting through the tangled brush and branches along the trail. He was good company.

Dried out ferns
We came to a fork in the trail, which we had expected, and took the left fork. We decided ahead of time to hike up this fork, since it was said to be shorter, and come back down the other fork. After another quarter mile or so, the forest suddenly changed. The dry forest packed with dead branches and dried ferns opened up into a spacious hemlock and Doug fir forest with a dense canopy overhead. Now this was much more appealing! The salal was still everywhere.

Salal grew thickly alongside the trail in many places!

We eventually came to another junction in the trail, and proceeded left to take the trail to the summit.  Shortly thereafter, the trail transitioned from a straight uphill track to gradual switchbacks all the way to the summit. We reached the top sweating, with hearts pounding and lungs gasping for air, and proceeded to stand agape at the incredible view opening up before us.  It was spectacular.  And we were so high up! I am not a fan of uphill hikes, so making it to this summit, knowing I had done so completely under my own power, was a bit of a triumphant moment for me.

Perched on a low log bench, we looked out across North Bend, saw Mount Si and the Cascades in the distance, and watched the slow chugging of traffic down I-90. It was windy up there on the summit; so peaceful and pleasant it was to hear the breeze rushing through tree limbs like running water.

Mount Si

In addition to the great view and tiny log bench to sit on, the summit also boasts a benchmark posted there by the US Geodetic Survey in 1937. According to this benchmark, we were now repining atop "Ceder Butt". That was worth a giggle or two.

After awhile, I'd taken all of the photos I could, and we were thoroughly chilled from sitting there on the windy summit in our wet, sweat-soaked clothing. It was time to head back down the hill. We set out, and as we descended, gaps in the tree branches afforded a good glimpse of Rattlesnake Lake off in the distance.

The hike back down the trail was rather uneventful.  At the junction, we went straight and took the Blowout trail (now doesn't that sound like fun...) instead of turning right and heading back the way we'd come. This trail would eventually meet back up with the main trail, at the fork we'd encountered toward the beginning of the hike. The Blowout trail was a bit longer, but so much more pleasant than the other trail had been. The forest was open and beautiful, filled with Doug fir, hemlock, and lots of limbs covered in Old Man's Beard moss.

After awhile, we passed by a sign affixed to a tree on the lefthand side of the trail bearing the words "Boxley Blowout Overlook". We looked, but there was nothing to see but trees. This might once have been an "overlook" but the trees on the hillside had grown too tall to allow us to see anything now. Having done my research before the hike, I knew that back in 1918, Boxley Creek flooded, bursting its dam and wiping out the village of Edgewick that once stood in the valley below.  This was the Boxley Blowout. Click here for a wonderfully detailed version of this historical event.

We continued along the trail, stopping for a moment to listen to the beautiful singing of a little brown bird in the brambles. I was able to later identify him as a Pacific Wren. There were some lovely sights along the trail, and we may have seen a few trillium... my husband counted 72 total. These flowers are blooming everywhere this year!

Overall, this was an enjoyable hike and I'd do it again. The view from the summit was without a doubt the best part of the hike; I'd been apprehensive about the 900 foot elevation gain - that's a lot for me - but it was no big deal. I might even say it was easy.

The most noticeable features of the Cedar Butte hike are the signs of historical human presence visible in the forest and along the trail. Many of us aren't well acquainted with the history of this area; and the old railroad signs, telegraph poles, notched cedar stumps, Ceder Butt benchmark, and the Boxley Blowout are all reminders that this area has been settled and subject to the influence of human industry for more than a century, even though it might appear at first glance to be an untouched, intact forest. There is so much history in our little corner of the Pacific Northwest, and this hike inspired me to want to learn more, to know what secrets and history are hidden in these forested landscapes.

I did my research ahead of time and looked up the Cedar Butte hike on the Washington Trails Association website.  If you're enticed to check out this hike for yourself, I'd definitely recommend using the driving directions and the directions to the trailhead found at the WTA website link above. Had we not had these directions printed out and in hand, we might have gotten lost!

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