Friday, February 19, 2016

Wanderings: Lime Kiln Trail

The lime kiln

We've got to be getting close, I thought to myself, growing more desperate with every squelching footstep and each jacket seam breached by the unrelenting downpour, leaving cold wet patches on my skin. Rain collected in fat drops on the branches overhead, splattering with startling force on my hood as though I were being bombarded with tiny water balloons from the heavens.

My husband and I had been hiking for the past two and a half miles in the pouring rain, headed for the historic lime kiln on the aptly-named Lime Kiln Trail in Granite Falls. I'm a nature nerd and my husband is a history buff, so this hike seemed like a great opportunity to combine both of our interests. However, we happened to choose an extraordinarily soggy day to explore this amazing trail that lies within the Robe Canyon Historic Park.

Bundled up in waterproof jackets and pants, we joined a handful of other intrepid folks braving the miserable weather on the trail, and set out from the sparsely occupied parking lot into a mossy, green, drippy, enchanting forest. The trail was muddy, with an occasional puddle that I could easily skirt around. My husband was smart to wear waterproof boots, and gladly sloshed right through the puddles while staying comfortably dry. A little ways in, we encountered what probably was supposed to be a wooden bridge, but which was now completely underwater, save for the logs running along the sides. Balancing carefully on the slippery log, I was able to make my way across while keeping my feet dry... for now. But this was only a glimpse of things to come!

Shortly thereafter, the trail turned into a wide gravel path and the sky opened up overhead as the bare deciduous trees retreated to the edges of the wide trail behind a wall of tangled salmonberry branches that already (!) are showing little buds from which the leaves will soon sprout. We followed the trail uphill for a stretch, then turned a corner and gradually descended. We were headed back toward the forest, but first had to cross a very swollen stream that gushed across the trail and flowed with such force and volume that some of the water was diverted out of the channel and down the trail. I cleared the stream with a running leap (it doesn't look very wide in the photo, but it took some ooomph on my part - and my husband pulling me by the hand - to make it across!) and then we continued down the flooded trail into the darkest, gloomiest forest I'd ever set foot in.

A thick canopy of tangled, moss-covered branches blocked out much of the light on this section of the trail, leaving the forest floor below dark, drippy, and eerie, with the atmosphere of a primeval, enchanted forest from which an ogre might appear at any moment. It was delightfully spooky!

We followed the trail over a wide bridge, then took a sharp turn to the left where the trail descended along a steep canyon slope before leveling out at the old railroad grade where the Everett and Monte Cristo Railroads once ran their steam engines, hauling lime and timber from these remote hills to the smelters and lumber yards in Everett. Eyeing the narrow grade cut into the hillside and the steep cliff descending to the muddy, rain-swollen and swift current of the Stillaguamish River hundreds of feet below, I marveled at how a train could have possibly run through this place. There were historical photos of that very thing at the trailhead kiosk however, so we knew it had been done!

This part of the trail was level, and had great views of the Stillaguamish below. Bigleaf maple, cedar, and hemlock trees stood watch from the hillside as we crossed more streams, ducked under trees that had fallen across the trail, and picked our way around puddles. Or at least I was picking my way around, still (fruitlessly) trying to keep my feet dry. One particular stretch of trail was so flooded that there was no way for me to get around on dry ground. I'd either have to slosh through and come out with soggy shoes and socks, or my husband would have to give me a piggyback ride. So piggyback ride it was. It was at this point that the (still) pouring rain overwhelmed my jacket's water-repelling capacity, and I could feel a cold wetness seeping through to my shoulders and soaking my sides.

I knew we were getting close to the lime kiln when we began spotting rusty artifacts along the trail: broken saw blades, rusted cable, twisted pieces of metal. Then at long last, the imposing form of the lime kiln resolved from the surrounding forest, its hundred-year-old stone structure covered thickly with moss and ferns. The forest was attempting - and certainly succeeding - to reclaim it. We clambered around the kiln, admiring the carefully laid stones and brickwork adorning its three stoking ports, where fires would have been kept burning to process the lime. The inside of the stoking ports still have white lime residue spilling from them. Cluttering the ground outside of the kiln are more rusty saw blades, bits of metal, corroded iron doors, and broken pieces of brick that still bear legible writing stamped into their faces.

We poked around the kiln a bit, and I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera from getting too waterlogged in the continual downpour. The trail continues on for another three-quarters of a mile or so beyond the lime kiln, but at this point the soaking-wet state I was in became too miserable to bear, so we made a speedy beeline back up the trail, toward the parking area 2.6 miles away. I just sloshed right through the puddles this time... I could already feel water squishing between my toes with each step, and there was no possible way my feet could get any wetter than they already were.

The rain had abated to a misty drizzle by the time we were back to the trailhead and parking area, were we gladly peeled off the soggy raingear, turned up the heat in the car, and vowed to come back during the summertime for further exploration. While it was fun to see the gushing creeks and dripping mossy banks during our rainy hike, I know this trail will be more enjoyable when fair weather offers us the leisure to more fully appreciate and explore the history and stunning natural scenery of this intriguing place.

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