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Monday, March 15, 2010

A trip to Marble-halem

You know that stretch of the Skagit upstream of Marblemount and downstream of Newhalem? It's an area I'll admit I usually just drive through without much thought to stopping. The Ross Lake NRA begins at about Bacon Creek, and that's about where the new expanded National Park boundary would be. So we wanted to find out what kind of potential this area might have for some improved amenities in National Park. As of now, there's an NRA/Park Complex entry sign, but other than that the area appears pretty much the same as the National Forest downstream.

We also wanted to look in the lower Bacon Creek drainage, since that's also targeted for inclusion in the expanded Park.

After a quick stop in Marblemount to glance at maps, we headed up. First stop was near where Bacon Creek meets the Skagit, searching for some old bridge abutments that might support a new footbridge to put some trails on the south bank of the Skagit. We found them, but realized there probably wasn't any good place for a trailhead parking area for more than 2 or 3 cars along the highway there. So we headed-up to Newhalem.

Turning right at the Park Visitor Center sign, we crossed the river and parked where some old roads split-off. This side of the river valley is rarely explored, but there's an abandoned road-bed that runs south from there, and so we slung on our packs and headed out to take a look.

Your American Alps task force hits the trail!

We turned around after crossing a few old river side-channels traversing a slope where the old road was cut into a bluff above the river, with good views up-valley. I don't think I'd ever gotten as close to the Skagit along here, but it's a beautiful "wild and scenic" place. Across the river here you really have no idea there's a highway anywhere near. If you didn't know about the dams and diversions upstream, you might think this was a completely natural river. Clearly it was subject to much more dramatic level fluctuations (ie "flooding") before the hydro project, from evidence of large abandoned side channels, but it still has a very wild look and feel.

View up the Skagit from our lunch spot on the south bank below Newhalem. This might be an ideal new low-elevation trail in an expanded National Park.

On our way back down the valley, we drove a short way up the Thornton Creek road to where we could look across the Skagit valley directly to where we'd turned around on the hike from Newhalem, and saw a large alluvial fan with a waterfall at its head. So one idea might be to improve the trail, then extend it to this waterfall. Total length might be 2 or 3 miles, an ideal off-season low-elevation destination. The trailhead would be close to the Visitor Center, another plus.

Future waterfall destination for south-side river hike from Newhalem?

A future post will tell the story of the rest of our exploration, including a shocking revelation on Bacon Creek!


Anonymous said...

I sure hope a trail never gets built on that wild south side of the Skagit described in the posting. That stretch of the Skagit is possibly the best salmon spawning area left in the Puget Sound basin. Yes, there is a highway on the north side, but the south side is still wild. Why should we be sending people into one of the last places where a bear might still be able to catch a salmon dinner without having to constantly be on the lookout for human intruders?

Especially when there are so many other better places to build trails. Like viewpoints on the numerous ledges and "balconies" north of the highway.

People have already taken over so much of this planet - can't we leave anyplace alone? Putting a new trail smack dab into one of the very last wild lowland areas left in the Cascades, right next to the last best remaining salmon river, would be a big mistake. I'm disappointed that the American Alps campaign is even considering such a harmful idea.

More trails? said...

The NC3 would like more trails built so its board members can write some more hiking trail guide books.