Memorial Day Weekend means another summer season begins. I took an extra day from work for a five-day holiday, and spent much of it up in the NW corner of the GPNF, in the area between Longmire and Randle. I was packed for a backpacking adventure, but the lingering snows above ~4000 meant the high areas I wanted to get to were not yet available. I ended up car camping and day-hiking.
Getting a late start Sunday, I arrived at the Packwood Traffic Jam - aka Flea Market. It only took me about 15 minutes to get from the old mill to Skate Creek Rd. I then wound my way  up the 47 Rd to Silver Creek Pass, and down Skate Creek on the 5240 Rd to the Silver Creek Trail 258 trail head. This trail is misnamed. It does not coincide with the Silver Creek watershed in any way, shape, or form. Perhaps at one time it did, but currently, it ends many miles shy of Silver Creek Pass and Silver Creek to the south. It should be named Skate Creek Trail, as it parallels the upper reaches of Skate Creek, although the creek is far, far below. I suspect that, historically, this used to be part of a longer trail that allowed passage between Randle and Longmire along Skate and Silver Creeks, although now it is all logging roads, with this 3.6 mile exception. It's a fairly nice trail, and in pretty good shape. Although it is open to motorbikes, the tread is good. Up toward the top, some peek-a-boo views of Skate Mountain appear. The trail passes through some good berry county, and old roads offer access to various areas, but I have no idea of those roads are accessible. They looked relatively unused.
At the top, the trail lets out on the 84 Rd. Following it a short distance south to the 8460, I attempted to make it as far as the Allen Mountain Trail #269, but turned back because of snow just a short distance from the trail head. The entire day was cloudy, but warm and calm. There are some really nice camp sites along the 8460, with great views of Mt. Rainier. I turned back, made my way back down the trail, and spent the night at the trailhead. Since I didn't see a good spot for my hammock, just slept in my truck. Total mileage today 10.3, with 1,583' gain.
In the morning, I walked down the 52 Rd, and made my way down to the 5200-012 Rd - this is the 'back door' to Longmire. NPS employees use this to access the Longmire Administrative area, avoiding the congested entry on Hwy 706.  I was surprised by how many people look for a free entrance here. The road is gated right at the national park boundary and it appears there is a constant stream of people driving up to and back from this gate. I walked thru the campground (reserved for employees & volunteers) to the Longmire Station, and had lunch along the river at the Nisqually Native designated use area.
 Next up - the 85 Rd. I backtracked to Silver Creek Pass, down the 47 Rd to the 85, and made my way toward Cougar Gap at the end of the 8518 Rd. After traversing some washout repairs on the 85 Rd, I turned up the  very steep 8518, parking at the first snowbank about a mile in. The remaining 4 miles to Cougar Gap was quite nice, involving lots of great territorial views and plenty of wet feet. It'll be a few weeks before this road opens up, and when it does, there is cleanup needed. I gave up when I got to the trailhead at Cougar Gap. The snow was deep enough I could not discern the trail, and I was getting tired. I made up a dinner of Beef Stew, and drove back down the mountain while it was cooking, to spend the night on the 47 Rd. I drove as far down it as I could before the road was blocked by a tree, and then just parked in the road. The bats came out at dusk, and then the stars. It was a lovely night. Total mileage today 17.2 with 2,362' gain.
I started the next morning with Granola & Blueberries, dirty chai, and a walk 4 miles down the 47 Rd to the Silver Creek washout. Impressive! The road is largely abandoned, but there have been survey marks spray-painted onto the trees. Who knows how old they are? I could find no way around or across the washout, and will have to explore that from the other side.
Which I intended to do. After getting back to my truck, I back-tracked to Packwood, then to Randle, and up to the first bend on the 47 Rd. There is a trail there, marked on maps, but not labelled. I wondered where all it went. I ended up following the trail, then getting off of it somehow, and onto a different one, finally ending up down in the valley on Silverbrook Rd, about a mile from where I started. I found a number of side trails that are not shown on maps, and a trail that ventured to the canyon rim overlooking the creek. Knowing what I do about social trails in the GPNF, I feel there is a lot more to explore. Many portions of the trail rambled thru some impressive, low-elevation old-growth. I never did make it back up to the washout.
By the time I had done an 8 mile loop, and then explored the canyon-side trail, I was pooped! Given the early hour, and my pain levels, I opted to forego one more night out in the woods in favor of a trip to the Huff-N-Puff, and to sleep at home. Today's mileage was 16.9 miles with 2,436' gain.
Totals for the weekend: 44.4 miles w/ 6,381' gain.

Images taken May 26-28, 2019 in the Skate Creek-Silver Creek area between Longmire, WA and Randle WA, GPNF
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