Saturday, March 26, 2016

Wanderings: The Old Sauk River Trail

Under a threatening ceiling of low gray clouds, my sister, her dog Ruby and I set out on the first day of spring to meet up with our book club at the Old Sauk River Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. I'd had this hike saved in my "backpack" on the Washington Trails Association website for awhile, and was glad to finally be able to explore this trail that winds through lowland old-growth forest as it follows the swift and cold Sauk River.

Having visited Rockport State Park several times, and Rasar State Park most recently, I've become quite familiar lately with the stunning landscape tucked into the Cascade foothills in Skagit County. As we exited I-5 and followed highway 530 eastward, the mountains of the Cascade range came into view, their snowy white tops somehow glowing and illuminated with light despite the ominous overcast skies. We kept our fingers crossed that the rain would hold off at least until we were done hiking.

There are three trailheads for the Old Sauk River Trail along Mountain Loop Highway, and we met up with our book club group at the second trailhead, which offers more parking space and has primitive restroom facilities. After gearing up and making sure our Northwest Forest Pass was on the dashboard, my sister and I greeted our book club members and excitedly set out on the trail.

Right away, we noticed how green and mossy this forest was. In some places, the entire forest - the floor, trees, limbs - is carpeted with delicate moss, which gave the forest an atmosphere of fairyland-like enchantment.

This feathery moss was everywhere!
The second thing we noticed: spring has arrived. Everywhere, tender little green leaves were unfurling, flowers were blooming, and the forest was coming back to life. Our progress along the trail was leisurely, as we stopped frequently to examine interesting-looking moss, admire the giant old trees, and exclaim over delicate mushrooms and blooming everythings. And with four bloggers in the group, there were plenty of pauses for photographs as well!

Bleeding heart is sprouting!
I'm not sure what this interesting flower is... can anyone ID it?
Indian plum
I love the colors of this red huckleberry growing from a stump!
Red huckleberry
Before setting out on this hike, I had quietly hoped to find the first blooming trillium of the year... we were just at the beginning of trillium season though, so I tried not to get my hopes up. Silly me. Of course these heralds of the spring season would be greeting us along the trail on this first day of spring. We weren't very far into the hike before the joyful cry of "trillium!" echoed through the quiet forest and stately old trees. Sure enough, a small trillium with its leaves still wrapped tightly around it was poking through the mossy carpet, newly-opened petals glowing perfectly white.

This trillium was the most-loved trillium that ever lived, I'm sure. Each member of our decent-sized group stopped to admire the flower or snap a few photos, all of us exclaiming in delight. Again, I was grateful to be in the company of friends and fellow hikers who get excited about these things like I do!

There were a handful of other trillium blooming along the trail, with blossoms just barely opened, they reminded me of someone waking after a nap, their white petals like half-closed eyes blinking sleepily and squinting in the warm spring light after waking from a long winter's rest. As is the custom, I had to stop and snap photos of every single one.

This one had a moth friend!
I love the green streak on the petal

As we made our way along the trail,  it became apparent that this forest had been significantly impacted by one or all of the windstorms we've had in the past few months. There were fallen trees everywhere, their root systems upended to form towering walls of rich dirt, rocks, and tangled roots. The windstorm had been a major disturbance for this old-growth forest that resulted in the loss of numerous trees and the shade they provided, thus opening up spots in the canopy where light will now shine through and allow small trees and sun-loving plants to thrive and grow. Eventually, the fallen trees will rot and decay, becoming nurse logs that provide nutrients for the next generation of trees. And so the circle of life continues in the forest. Many trees had also fallen across the trail, and hadn't yet been cleared away, which meant we had the fun and adventurous task of climbing over and under some rather sizable trees, made slippery with recent rain. This was especially an obstacle for the Ruby dog, who had to be lifted and carried over most of them, but she was a good sport about it!

We hiked until we reached the first trailhead, then turned and walked back the way we came, in search of a nice spot to sit and have a snack while we discussed the March book club book, Grandma Gatewood's Walk. Appropriate spot having been found, packs unloaded, and delicious blueberry muffins passed around, we settled in to discuss our thoughts on the book, and afterward, to share what we're calling our Trail Boss moments: the little (or big!) life triumphs we've experienced recently. Mine was that I drove myself to Seattle without getting lost or having a panic attack and turning around and going home. I'm terrified of driving in Seattle, but had to attend a class for work there, and I survived!

I would much rather be in the forest, walking in the calm and quiet, breathing the fresh air and hunting for trillium than driving to Seattle any day. Reflecting back now, I can see that this fact would probably be true also for Emma Gatewood, the subject of Grandma Gatewood's Walk. In 1955, at the age of 67, Emma Gatewood walked the entire two thousand miles of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. In the following years, she hiked it again... twice. And then she walked across the country on the Oregon Trail. She was walking away from the pain and abuse she'd suffered for years, and into the quiet solitude and dangerous adventure of the wilderness. That breed of boldness and adventure is beyond me, but looking at the blooming, greening forest around us, I mused that I could easily follow the narrow, meandering dirt path of the Sauk River Trail for two thousand miles without growing bored or weary.

Dusting the dirt and damp bits of leaves from our pants, our little group stood and headed back through the forest, taking a short detour to the river's edge before finding our way back to the parking lot. We huddled together for a group photo before bidding each other farewell, until next month's book club hike. There's no better way to spend the first day of spring, I reflected, than to be in the company of old trees, a rushing river, good companions, and of course... trillium.

Check out the amazing blogs of some of my fellow book club members:

Alpine Lily
Pacific Northwest Seasons
Tiny Pines

1 comment:

  1. Always love your perspective! However, I need to try again because I'm not seeing your images. I'm sure the issue is on my end, will try with a different web browser.Happy trails!