Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sheep Canyon in the Rain

Early last week, the weather-guessers predicted partly sunny, dry weather on Friday.  Since this was my day off, I immediately made plans to go hiking with Chuck. 

Well.....I should know better than to trust a forecast more than a day in advance.  Friday was anything but dry.  Waking up early that morning, the first thing I heard was the pitter-patter of raindrops on the roof.  Chuck sent a text asking if I still wanted to go hiking.

The trailhead was in the remnants of an old mudflow

I'd been planning to hike Sheep Canyon, one of the "100 hikes" in my Sullivan's book still unchecked.   I already had the day off, and thought "If  I don't hike, what else am I gonna do?"  I announced to Chuck the hike was still on.  His only response was: "Grab your raingear".

Chuck models his Hefty bag pack cover

After a long, wet drive that was intermittently rain and mist, Chuck and I arrived at our destination.  We busied ourselves getting decked out in full raingear.  Lacking proper rain protection for our backpacks, we fashioned attractive black plastic covers, courtesy of Hefty.

The latest in Hefty bag fashions!

Sheep Canyon is located directly south of Mt. St. Helens, on the western edge of the blast zone.  When the mountain erupted, this area miraculously escaped most of the devastation.  However, a flood in 2006 washed out the old trailhead, so we began our hike at a parking area amidst a huge field of boulders.  A trail had been cleared though the mud and rocks.  Tons of mossy dead trees stood amidst the rubble, making for an eerie sight in the wet, foggy morning.

The first of many river crossings

After a short distance, our trail blended in to the boulder field and became difficult to follow.  To aid hikers in navigation, well-meaning people had left various colors of flagging and intermittent cairns.  We found out right away these markers didn't always point toward our chosen trail.  Chuck and I crossed a rushing creek, only to discover we were going the wrong way.  Then we had to re-cross it again!

Now it's my turn!

The soaking mist turned into a hard rain.  Chuck and I played "follow the flags," hoping one of the colors would lead us to the right trail.  By some miracle, we ended up at Blue Lake, a landmark that our map showed was adjacent to the trail.  The path was supposed to continue south of the lake.  But that meant crossing the stream again....

I'm actually wetter than I look

But where was that trail?  Chuck and I traveled up and down the stream, looking for some indication of a hiker crossing point, or continuation on the opposite bank.  At first, we didn't see any clues.  Then Chuck noticed what appeared to be a skid marks in the dirt going up a steep slope on the other side.  Beings it was the only thing that came close to a trail, we decided to cross the creek and check it out.

Foggy Blue Lake

It was another adventurous log hop!  Chuck shakily balanced on two slippery logs, but I chickened out, crouched down, and gripped one of the logs with my hand as I slid myself across.  We made it across just fine, without getting wet (at least from the creek!)

Chuck scouting for a good crossing

Chuck and I scrambled up the steep slope on the other side.  Lo and behold, at the top was the trail we sought!  It was a nice, wide well-graded path leading straight into the forest.  How had we missed it?

Colorful wet leaves

It was great to have good trail to follow.  We headed into a beautiful old-growth forest.  Somehow these wonderful woods had escaped destruction from the 1980 eruption.  Although the rain had eased, huge drops of water dripped from the branches of the trees, dive-bombing Chuck and I.  So much for staying dry in the forest!

It's a little damp here on the bridge

I was hoping for a little more fall color, but it appeared to be too early yet in the season.  There were lots of deciduous trees and bushes along the trail, and Chuck and I agreed we'd like to return later in the month to catch the changing colors.  We were treated to one small display of fall hues at a clearing.  I dutifully recorded the rain-dappled leaves with my camera.

Chuck waves from the Sheep Canyon Bridge

After three miles, Chuck and I arrived at the bridge spanning Sheep Canyon.  Although it was too foggy to see very far, the immediate scenery was impressive.  A creek cut through the canyon, creating small cascades above and under the bridge.  Red huckleberry bushes decorated the adjacent hillside.  We dug out our now-soggy cameras and attempted a few photographs.

A couple of soaked hikers

Originally our destination was the South Fork of the Toutle River, which was another 1.5 miles west beyond Sheep Canyon.  But the precip had not let up in the least, and we were getting wetter by the minute.  After arriving at Sheep Canyon, both Chuck and I agreed we'd gone far enough for the conditions that day, and it was time to head back to the car.

Water droplet artwork courtesy of Mother Nature

One of the cool things about being out on a rainy day is seeing the intricate patterns raindrops create on the vegetation.  The water droplets sparkled like diamonds on these lupine leaves.  Sadly, my photograph wasn't able to adequately capture this magical sight.

"Jabba the Hut" mushrooms

Chuck and I spotted some unusual mushrooms sprouting from trees along the trail.  I especially liked these large brown shiny 'shrooms.  Kinda reminds me of Jabba the Hut!

My feet are really wet now!

About the time we reached Blue Lake, I started to feel some dampness soaking through my two layers of wool socks.  Hmmm....made me realize my boots were way overdue for re-waterproofing!    I also realized the rain had soaked clear through my jacket into the pockets.   I'd been storing my camera in it's neoprene case inside my jacket pocket, and the camera and case were mighty damp.  Guess my jacket could use a little Nikwax love too!  Nothing like a hike on a rainy day to point out my gear maintenance shortfalls.

Despite being wet, Chuck is all smiles

Chuck and I followed the nice trail until it disappeared into the creek.  A recent landslide had wiped it out, and took with it whatever improved bridge crossing used to exist.  So we backtracked to the same logs we'd used earlier, and shimmied our way across.  A short ramble through the dead mudflow forest (which for some reason was much easier to find our way though on the return trip) and we were back at the trailhead.  Wet and cold, but none the worse for wear!  We'd survived our hike in the rain.  Braving the elements always makes me feel like a badass.

Although the weather didn't cooperate, it was still a great hike.  Heading back down the road through the heavy mist, Chuck and I both agreed we were glad we didn't stay home!



  1. So impressed by Jabba the Hut! as always everything is so beautiful! I would love to see it someday :)

  2. cool looks like you had fun despite the rain I love to see people making the best of a not always best situation.


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