A windstorm on the evening of January 28, 2016 was the final blow for a large rotting Sitka Spruce tree by the Bessemer Road gate, about 7 miles up the Middle Fork road. It fell across the road, completely blocking all access to the upper valley. Two early arrivals parked on the side of the road and did their planned bike ride or hike from there. But a couple heading for Goldmyer Hot Springs were determined to get through so drove back home to get a chain saw and try to get enough of the tree cut out to drive through. Soon after they started working other locals that often help with tree clearing showed up and steady progress was made clearing the 3-foot diameter tree. After about an hour a 2-person King County road crew arrived with bigger chainsaws and a truck with a winch. They were able to cut through a healthier part of the tree and drag a large section out of the way. Normally King County is not responsible for road clearing because the paving project is not done, but they came out because they were concerned that people farther up the valley might be stranded. A path was finally cleared by about 3 PM.On February 5 another King County crew equipped with a big excavator returned to the spot to complete the clearing.
On January 26, 2016 the local DNR staff hosted a neighborhood forum to discuss early stage plans for a new trailhead at the base of Mount Teneriffe. The DNR had previously met with selected neighbors and scheduled a previous forum that was lightly attended because a strong windstorm hit the area that day. This event drew about 40 people, the higher attendance probably due to an article about the meeting in a local newspaper.After a brief overview, Doug McClelland of the local DNR office fielded questions and concerns from the audience for over an hour and half. Doug emphasized that the DNR is not trying to draw more recreation related traffic up the narrow SE Mount Si Road, rather it is trying to solve a problem of inadequate parking at the school bus turn-around as the Mount Teneriffe trails become more popular. This Mount Si NRCA project is only one part of a comprehensive Snoqualmie Corridor Recreation Plan including DNR lands on Tiger Mountain, the Raging River valley, Rattlesnake Mountain, and the Middle Fork Snoqualmie NRCA. Most of the trailheads being developed are close to I-90 and do not involve hikers walking or driving through a residential area. That makes this trailhead particularly sensitive and neighbors from the affected area were not shy to voice their concerns.
- Parking and traffic on SE Mt Si Road and in nearby neighborhoods. A few spots along the road are legal to park on, but parking in areas where it’s prohibited only incurs a $20 ticket which most felt is not enough of a deterrent.
- Safety concerns due to hikers walking along the road when the Mt Si parking lot is full. There are no sidewalks and the shoulder is narrow so the hikers often walk in the traffic lanes
- Increased traffic on a service level 4 road that receives only minimal maintenance. Most of these issues must ultimately be addressed by King County, but integrated planning by all parties and a coordinated request will probably yield the best results.
- Concerns about visitors trespassing on private property and inappropriate behavior. One resident found visitors having a picnic on her lawn. Some hikers feel free to change clothes in the middle of the street. Ungated parking lots invite activities unrelated to hiking, including some users frequently staying overnight.
- Concerns about levels of police patrols and enforcement. This is another issue that extends well beyond the DNR, but should be addressed as part of the plan.
These problems are not going to be easy to solve, but Doug emphasized that there is good cooperation between the various levels of government and other groups funding the projects. Visitation levels have been increasing for years and doing nothing is not a solution. Some of the possible mitigations discussed were
- Installing a vending machine for purchase a Discover Pass to reduce pressure to park outside the designated areas
- Continuing the experiment with a shuttle service started in the summer of 2015. It got a lot of publicity but very little use. Ultimately a shuttle service will be needed for both the Mount Si and Middle Fork areas because there will not be enough parking for the anticipated demand. The Middle Fork paving project actually reduces the number of possible parking places because the road is being raised to improve drainage and this results in steep shoulders.
- Avoid building new trails beyond those that currently exist in the Mount Si NRCA and encourage use of trails in other nearby areas with better access.
- Consider electronic surveillance to help safety and law enforcement. Automatically monitoring how full the lots are and making the information available online could direct hikers to less busy areas.
- Improve signage for parking, pass requirements and purchase, and other nearby hiking options
Work on the Teneriffe trailhead and other Snoqualmie Corridor facilities is being funded by a $100,000 grant – RCO 14-1841 Snoqualmie Corridor Facilities Design. The initial thinking when applying for the grant was to build a new parking lot uphill from the school bus turn around where hikers currently park.Work done as part of the grant evaluated the possible trailhead locations more carefully and the preferred site shifted to area B shown below. The DNR staff stressed that these are still concept drawings. Actual plans require significantly more study to evaluate wildlife, drainage, traffic and other impacts.
01/11/2016 Living Snoqualmie – New Hiking Trailhead, 70 Car Parking Lot Planned for Mt. Si Road, Residents Voice Concerns
The end of 2015 saw two notable ski feats on Mount Si; one a descent from the top of haystack and the other down the Black Canyon. Both were made possible by unusually heavy snow fall that was stable enough to ski on without triggering slides.
Peter Avolio, Trevor Kostanich and Dave Jordan accomplished a rare ski descent of Mount Si starting from the top of the haystack. Previous descents have been done down the open gullies of the west face. However, this is probably not the first ski descent from the top because other skiers report that it was done in the early 2000s and earlier.
A few days earlier Frank Bush also took advantage of the unusual snow conditions and reported skiing down the Black Canyon. In his words “On Christmas morning Mt Si was ripe, but couldn’t find a partner so I solo skied the deep walled canyon with a 12 foot rock step 2/3 down. Side step down steep rock slab with shrubs to grab (60′) to get into it, then several hundred feet of good pow turns before jump turns on 10″ covered rocks. Rock step near bottom is very obvious, it crosses the whole line from wall to wall.“
Three severe fall storms have been devastating to some of the Middle Fork trails. This update summarizes what is known as of January 12, 2016. Updates will be added as news trickles in.
No reports of problems in recent trip reports
A hiker on the day of the most recent storm reported no serious blowdown
Teneriffe Falls / Peak
On the WTA site Stuke Sowle posted a January 8 grand tour trip report including Teneriffe falls and peak, the CCC plateau, Mailbox Peak, and Granite Creek trail.
About two dozen trees are down across the new trail, but deep snow obscures the trail higher up. There are no reported trees down on the old trail. The DNR has cleared trees blocking access to the parking lot. Some recent storms have left slippery snow on the access road to the parking lot so on those days the gate is left locked to prevent cars from sliding down the relatively steep slope.
Granite Creek – This trail has a large number of trees down and is impassible beyond the Granite Creek bridge. As of December 26 a trail has been broken in deep snow as far as the bridge.
December 7 seekingultra report: Granite Lakes trail windstorm destruction – “The Granite Lakes trail off of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie road has been obliterated by blowdown after the bridge crossing Granite Creek. There are 100+ blowdowns in the 1/4-mile past the bridge and the 100 yards ahead we could see when we stopped appeared to be more of the same.
December 19 WTA report: Thompson Lake, Granite Lakes Trail – “After the second bridge is when the trail starts to become difficult to navigate. We went up and over fallen trees for about 30-40 minutes with NO relief and none that looked like it was coming. Ultimately it became too much and a little unsafe for the dogs to navigate.”
Sitka Spruce – Minor blowdown but still passable. The log over the small creek near the concrete bridge is partially washed out. Whitebark@nwhikers.net reports that he cleared some of the blowdown on December 29.
Pratt River – There are 27 trees down in the first .6 miles to the Rainy Creek bridge and it is very difficult to get past some of them because of steep slopes below the trail. The root ball of two trees pulled up part of the trail about 1/4 mile in but it is still easily passed.
CCC – No recent reports. Status is unknown.
Bessemer Road – firstname.lastname@example.org posted a Bessemer Road trip report from January 9, 2016. The Middle Fork road was icy and difficult to drive, there was some tedious blowdown on the Bessemer Road. He turned around at ~2900′.
Middle Fork – There are three trees down in the first mile, two of these are difficult to cross. Beyond that is unknown but probably bad. The winds were severe in this part of the valley based on the number of trees down across the road on the other side of the river.
Dingford Creek – No recent reports. Status is unknown but this part of the valley did not experience the worst winds and the trail is probably buried under snow for the winter season after the heavy snows of the Christmas week.
Taylor River – The last quarter mile to the trailhead has been washed out. Park at the wide spot just past the first Taylor River bridge. The trail was apparently not hit too hard. On 12/19/2015 PataGenn at WTA reported “Snow started before the MF trailhead. 3-4″ of snow at the beginning, 7-8″ when we turned around at about 3 3/4 miles. Snow falling from the trees as it warmed up.” Photo by PataGenn.
Dutch Miller Gap – No recent reports. Status is unknown but this trail is probably buried under snow for the winter season after the heavy snows of Christmas week.
Work has begun on the new Granite Creek shortcut trail. This trail will start at a new parking lot the DNR plans to build near the concrete bridge and will wind up the ridge west of Granite Creek to join the old road, recently converted to a trail. The new trail starts out on an old logging road but leaves about 1/3 miles in on a new track that stays along the ridge line. For a number of years there has been a little know user-built trail that some hikers have used to shorten the distance to Granite Lakes by about 1 1/2 miles each way. Sections of that trail have always been steep and muddy and the new trail looks like it will be a big improvement when completed. But as of December 26 with recent rains and snow, the new trail is also very muddy and slippery and does not yet connect with the main trail above.In a 2009 planning document the DNR said “The new trail will follow the old logging road for half a mile, but then leave the road and wind its way up to the east amongst the various stream drainages west of the Granite Creek Canyon. Once above these deeply cut drainages, the trail will climb the dry ground available west of Granite Creek to meet the Granite Road-Trail, utilizing as few climbing turns and switchbacks as possible.”
Just as the Middle Fork road was about to be opened for the winter season another major storm blew through resulting in yet another extension of the closure. Four inches of warm rain was recorded at Valley Camp for December 8 with an additional 1.22 inches the following day. The TANW1 gage showed a double peak, first at 25,000 cfs at 6pm on December 8 and 24,000 cfs at 5:15am on December 9.
After seeing the effects, the road closure was justified as wind gusts blew down numerous trees, mostly in the first two miles of the road above the Mailbox trailhead. About seven medium sized trees blocked the road to the Dingford trailhead and these were cleared by Friday. Reports continue to come in of blowdowns on trails, but the full impact of this series of severe winter storms may not be known until spring.
After the storm on Wednesday, December 9, a geotechnical engineer inspected the slope and Champion beach and approved opening the roadway through the slide area. There is barrier in place to catch any debris that may come down. ACI is clearing the downed trees through the project area and the road may be open to the public as early as Thurday, December 17.
- 12/07/2015 Seattle Times – ‘1-2-3 punch’ of storms bringing record rain, slides, risk of floods
- 12/08/2015 Cliff Mass Weather Blog – Flooding Ahead
- 12/08/2015 Seattle Times – Heavy rain plus melting snow saturates Washington
- 12/09/2015 Seattle Times – High waters, road and school closures, power outages, forecast
- 12/09/2015 Seattle Times – Widespread flooding slamming the region
The Mountain To Sound Greenway held it’s annual celebration dinner on December 2, 2015 at the Washington State Convention Center. As always they presented a series of accomplishments over the year, with the acquisition of land around Valley Camp being of interest here.
Besides that acknowledgement, each seat had a flyer on it with an appeal for contributions to support needed infrastruction in the Middle Fork valley. Pages from that flyer are reproduced here and it’s available as a PDF file from the MTSG website. If this is a cause you support, please consider donating to the MTSG which does an enormous amount of good work there.
Of course, it was gratifying to see the use of two photos from this website’s author.
A third 2015 storm caused high water flows on the Middle Fork river on November 17, the first time there have been three such significant events in a calendar year since records started in 1961. The peak flows rank this storm as the 10th highest to-date. The previous two events this year were the January 5 storm (8th highest) that closed the Middle Fork road for months, and the recent October 31 storm on Halloween that had somewhat lower flows and only caused a minor washout on the Taylor River road spur. The peak water flow of 27,300 cfs was just below the peak level of the January 5 event. Flow levels over 20,000 cfs were sustained for 10 hours.
On Thursday, two days after the storm passed, the WFLH announced that the road would be closed at least until Wednesday, November 25, 2015, an extension of 5 days from the previous closure. The closure point was moved to just beyond the Mailbox trailhead so it would be available for weekend. The concern for public safety is about some large boulders poised above the road at the new bank cut just before Champion Beach that could come down onto the road. Then on Wednesday, the closure was extended to noon Friday, December 4, including the Thanksgiving weekend. That date came and went with no opening and the most recent newsletter announced that the road will be closed indefinitely. The Mailbox trailhead will continue to be accessible.
- The lower road below the Taylor River turnoff where paving construction has improved the culverts has not sustained significant damage and minor issues have been repaired
- A large number of trees blew down at MP 8.5. These were cleared by late Tuesday to help get some people out that were stuck behind them. The water was at least a foot deep over the road and running with a strong current when the river crested at ~9pm Tuesday.
- At Champion Beach (~MP 4.5) mud and boulders are threatening to come down onto the road surface. The road closure has been extended to allow the contractor to stabilize this area.
- Many trees were blown down between the Taylor “Y” and the Dingford Trailhead, some up to 3 feet in diameter. By Wednesday, November 18 these were cut out enough to let a vehicle pass although there are a few spots that require a high clearance vehicle and the road is in general rocky and full of potholes and downed limbs. Pickups and high clearance jeeps should not have trouble. A Subaru Forester made it through both with a lot of rock scraping underneath, especially at Oil Pan Creek.
- MP 14.5 – A small creek by a multi-trunked alder is not too hard to cross.
- MP 14.9 – The Garfield wash (aka Moore property) has a deeper gully on the near side. Pick your route carefully to minimize scraping.
- MP 15 – Oil Pan Creek is just beyond the Garfield wash and has a large new washout with steep banks up to two feet high. A ramp has been constructed on the right. This is the most difficult spot before reaching the Dingford trailhead.
- The spur to the Taylor River trailhead is heavily eroded in three places and is not driveable even with high clearance vehicles. Park just beyond the bridge to hike in this area and walk the additional half mile to the trailhead.
- The Mailbox trail is a mess with lots of trees down. The old trail is blocked ~200 yards up from the kiosk. DNR is working in the Mailbox parking lot clearing trees that fell across the road.
- There is a large amount of blow down on the Granite Lakes trail. The lower part of the trail is bad enough, but still passable. However, beyond the bridge about 3.5 miles in it is nearly impenetrable; a group of very hardy trail runners were turned back on December 5.
On November 18, the day after the storm, the first team of volunteers began the hard work of clearing the blowdown beyond the Dingford road turnoff as far as the Dingford Creek trailhead. Nearly 80 trees needed to be cut. The chainsaw work is hazardous on trees like this, many of which are under extreme stresses. Once the trees are on the ground and limbed, it is surprisingly hard work to toss all the limbs and debris off the road and roll or tip the sections of trunk far enough to be out of the way. Kudos to the many hours spent by these folks, which relieves the short-staffed Forest Service of having to schedule time for road work here.
On November 25, a second team continued to clear the road beyond the Dingford gate.
On December 1, a third team of volunteers went in to clear an additional thirty trees on the gated road between Dingford and Goldmyer, now with a light covering of snow from recent cold and rainy days.
Downstream the combined flow of the three Snoqualmie River flows exceeded the Phase 4 flood level of 38,000 cfs.
- 11/16/2015 Seattle Times – 65-mph wind gusts, falling trees, full rivers, mountain snow
- 11/17/2015 National Weather Service – Flood and Wind Warning “The storm currently impacting the western Washington is delivering heavy rain over the mountains with snow levels above 7000 feet. This will drive the area rivers like the Elwha and Snoqualmie Rivers above flood stage.” and “Wind … south or southwest 25 to 40 mph with gusts near 60 mph are expected.”
- 11/18/2015 Seattle Times – 2 killed, thousands without power as winds hit Washington state
- 11/19/2015 Save Snoqualmie Falls – A beautiful close up video of the falls at high water, although not at the peak flow of this event.
An earlier post described potential parking problems across the road from the Mailbox Peak trailhead shortly after a new trailhead was constructed. Today, the DNR announced that they had successfully negotiated a purchase of the five parcels of land including the disputed parking pullout and other parcels surrounding Valley Camp. While there have not been problems reporting by hikers parking in the pullout north of the road the “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs were unnerving. This pullout provides overflow parking when the lot up the hill is full or for hikers who get a late start and might get down after the gate is locked.
The announcement states that the DNR and others are “exploring options for the property, possibly by restoring roads and access points remaining from timber harvesting as the basis for establishing ADA-friendly trails. This purchase also enables DNR to provide better access and amenities for those coming to hike Mailbox Peak.” It may take a while to realize those ambitions, but the area is already worth a side trip as part of a visit to Mailbox Peak. Most of the old logging roads in the lower areas are excellent for walking with one leading to an old yarding area known as Greg’s Valley View Point. There are no detailed maps of this area so navigational aids such as a GPS are recommended. Please respect Valley Camp’s property and exit via the Mailbox trailhead road.
A heavy rain storm on Halloween weekend that dropped 4 1/4 inches of rain over 2 days resulted in a peak flow of 22,400 cfps on the Middle Fork river. The rain was steady without a heavy downpour at any one time and there was no snow to melt in the mountains, factors which helped avoid major damage to the road. But flows of ~20,000 cfps were sustained for 5 hours. The Taylor river was especially wild — a log jam formed just above the turn off to Dingford Creek and caused part of the river to flow over the spur to the Taylor River trailhead. Later reports indicate that SUV style vehicles should still be able to negotiate the trench eroded across the road (see the last photo below).