Hike of the Week for Friday, September 30, 2011
Come September this old burn site is set ablaze in autumn colors
Article and photo by Craig Romano
West Cady Ridge is beautiful and colorful throughout the hiking season.
Location: Wild Sky and Henry Jackson Wildernesses, North Fork Skykomish River Valley
Land Agency: National Forest Service
Roundtrip: 8.0 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,300 feet
Green Trails Map: Monte Cristo, WA- No. 143
Contact: Skykomish Ranger District: Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest; www.fs.fed.us/r6/mbs
Notes: Northwest Forest Pass required.
Access: From Everett head east on US 2 for 49 miles to Skykomish. Continue east for one more mile turning left onto the Beckler River Road (FR 65).Continue north for 15 miles, cross the North Fork Skykomish River and come to a junction. Turn right onto FR 63 and proceed for 4.3 miles to road’s end and trailhead.
While West Cady Ridge’s alpine meadows are cherished by hikers for their dazzling summer wildflowers—autumn warrants some appreciation too. For once the last blossoms fade to memories and cool air regularly descends upon the open ridge, West Cady puts on its second annual color fest. Much of West Cady succumbed to wildfire years ago and has since been colonized by berry bushes and mountain ash that add crimson carpets and tufts of orange and yellow to the ridge each autumn. Wildlife cherishes the berry crops (you may too) and hikers bask in the muted and brilliant colors that these low-lying shrubs give off.
Don’t delay getting here any longer, for the autumn color fest ends soon. Begin your hike by entering luxurious ancient forest. Cross the North Fork Skykomish River on a bridge and begin climbing. The trail winds through some of the biggest and oldest trees in the Skykomish Ranger District, all protected now within Washington’s newest wilderness area, Wild Sky.
At about 2.0 miles reach a densely forested gap between West Cady Ridge and Excelsior Mountain. Here the way becomes much steeper making a direct ascent up the spine of West Cady. As the forest canopy begins to thin, views out to surrounding peaks grow wider. Traverse fiery red berry fields and emerald heather meadows to reach a 4,750-foot knoll at about 4.0 miles. This is a good spot to call it quits and relish in the delightful colors of the ridge and marvel at the awesome views of surrounding peaks. Gaze north across the North Fork Skykomish Valley to Columbia and Monte Cristo Peaks and west across Jack Pass to striking Spire Mountain.
If you have more energy however, the views get better farther up the trail. A good objective for strong hikers and backpackers is Bench Mark Mountain, a 7.2 mile one way trip from the trailhead. From this 5,816-foot mountain’s elongated summit savor stunning views which include most of the Henry Jackson and Wild Sky Wilderness areas.
For information on lodging and other attractions near West Cady Ridge, visit www.snohomish.org. For more information on this trail and others nearby, check out my Day Hiking Central Cascades Book. And for a chance to win this book, enter our contest by visiting www.snohomish.org.