More of a laze-about than an adventure... I drove up to the valley with no real destination in mind. I travelled up William Creek (USFS 47 Rd) with an eye to finding some area to hike about and camp overnight, and maybe do a bit of snowshoeing, but turned about and headed up the highway to Cortright Creek Rd (USFS 45 Rd), when all I found was ice at around 3000', and no welcoming campsites along the way.
Cortright was also a bust, again hitting ice at about the same elevation. Next, I thought to drive up to the Summit Creek trailhead on the 44 Rd, always some good campsites up there in the off season, and my recollection was that there was a newly installed, likely unofficial, footbridge at the Inipi near the trailhead. Once there, however, I found no sign of the foot bridge, but also a deep, swift Carlton Creek. I decide to spend the afternoon setting up camp and being lazy.
The area had a bit of traffic over the course of the afternoon, but by dusk had emptied out. I spent a chunk of the afternoon hiking up the 026 spur road to the end near the creek - a good drive-in camping area there - and then further along a social trail heading up the canyon. It eventually led me to an area above the gorge, that had burned this past August. All the ground cover was burned off and the large, old-growth trees scorched and dead. The ground was covered in a loose sand, and I suspect the area was the target of a water drop, being outside of the wilderness area. As I explored, I began to be wary of the soil. Things just didn't seem firm, and the slope was not gentle. I gingerly retraced my steps and followed the trail back down to the road.
Returning to camp, I had just enough daylight to set up my campfire (I had purchased two bundles of campfire wood at the hardware store in Packwood), and then boiled up some water for dinner (Chicken & Dumplings) and evening tea. I don't usually have a campfire when I'm out, for reasons of risk and smell, but this wintry evening under the bright stars was the perfect occasion for an exception. I don't know what time I retreated to my hammock and down bag, but I had burned thru my stack of wood and was getting very, very sleepy.
The morning dawned bright, and eventually, rosy. I had reserved just enough water for a cuppa dirty chai, and with that in hand walked down to the trail head to filter some water from Summit Creek. What a beautiful way to start the day. My filter had frozen, and that took some work to thaw.
It didn't take long to tear my camp down, but before I did, I wandered down the trail along the lip of the gorge to check out my stream side campsite at the historic Cowlitz Trail crossing. The stream was running high and swift, clear and cold and the sandy bar I camped on was mostly submerged. The deep greens and black mosses and ferns were bright and full on the cliff across the stream, and on the terrace above and behind me. I didn't spend long down there.
Driving down the hiway, I gave some thought to where I would spend the day - with no desire for any real effort or distance, with daylight short, and my desire to be out of the valley by dark, I thought I may just do some small walks here and there. I have a few different areas I want to wander, and the USFS 46 Road is high on that list. This is the road that leads to both the Bluff Lake trail and the Clear Fork Cowlitz Trail. It had been years since I had been up to the Clear Fork trail, and my understanding is the upper portion of the road was rebuilt this past summer. I didn't make it that far, but no matter. I turned around and parked just below the snow line, more an ice-line, then hiked up the road a short distance to the quarry and the 062 Rd.
This road descends down to the top of the Palisades, the tall, imposing cliffs of columnar basalt that can be viewed from the (now-closed) viewpoint along Hiway 12. I was able to walk thru the salad and old firs along the top of the cliff for some distance, and the gorge is impressively deep. There was no real trail there, however, and I turned about after a while to follow the road to its end. I noted that a trail continued thru what looked like a reclaimed roadway, but it was quite overgrown, and I was losing interest.
I turned back and walked up to the 420 spur, which I followed, with some difficulty here and there, to an indeterminate end. A faint foot trail seemed to continue, and in reality was likely road at one point. I eventually neared the 46 Road, then climbed up a short slope thru salal to reach it and head back down to my truck.
I then walked the 025 spur down Purcell Creek. I was half hoping for an obvious route over the creek and down to the trail connecting with Lawiswis. I did not find it, but did find an earthworks covering the spur road's connection to the highway. I remember as a child it being filled in and planted over, but I don't remember why or where the fill came from. Stacked up very high on the old road bed, it's like a tall, extremely skinny ridge running alongside the hill, grassy on top, with a footpath. I followed it down to the hiway, then turned back.
Back at the 46 Road, I poked along the jeep tracks and camping area alongside Purcell Creek. I never did find a connection with that trail down to Lawiswis, which is shown on historic maps as extending not only down to the ancient campground, but also up to berry fields atop Coal Creek Bluff and the contemporary Bluff Lake Trail.
I wrapped up my day with exploring a trail down in Glenoma - the Cowlitz Wildlife Area is seeming to come together year by year. I parked at the Glenoma Park and followed the road and trails across the valley floor and along the lower slope of Big Bottom Butte. Some areas down in the reed canary grass were flooded, but when has that ever stopped me? I also wandered around a bit out on the old lake bed on either side of Rainey Creek. I was a little disappointed to note what had been the overnight camping area is now day-use only, and much of it appeared to be off-limits for an environmental survey of some kind.