Trails on ridges are different than trails through valleys or trails that cut across slopes. Ridge trails are usually long (10 to 15 miles), and stay on top as much as possible. They can be relentlessly up and down, without a lot of switchbacks or climbing turns to moderate the grade. This is the psychologically difficult part of ridge trails–you descend steeply, hit bottom and are faced with an immediate climb back up. “Why,” I whine to myself, “did I lose all this elevation only to have to gain it again?” The whining is just part of the hike.
The payoff is occasional smooth sailing, easy ridge walking up high where there’s a 360 degree view. Yesterday John and I hiked part of Kachess Ridge. To the west and northwest, a wall of pearly mist was descending over the headwaters of Mineral and Lemah Creeks. My eyes followed the contours of the mountains across Escondido Ridge to a patch of silver snags on the side of Davis Peak, where the Polallie Fire boiled up the mountain in 2006. Then eastward to the ridge that divides the Cle Elum Valley from the West Fork of the Teanaway, and to Red Mountain right in front of me. That rocky peak is connected to the ridge I was on by a sub-ridge. There’s a trail there too, what we call a “challenge trail”: narrow tread, steep sideslopes, difficult to find in places. Not for the faint of heart.
Beside the views, there are green pocket meadows full of flowers, interesting rocks to look at where the bones of the ridge stick out of the vegetation. Mountain hemlocks and subalpine firs, dense in places, with very little undergrowth. The wind rises over and through these, giving a voice to the trees. It was a cold wind and I was grateful for the warm hat and raincoat I’ve kept in the bottom of my pack all summer. There are also huckleberry bushes along the trail. Always alert for ripe ones, I plucked a few as I walked by. Hm. Still a little tart. John checked a spring he knows about, but there was no water in August. Ridges tend to be dry.
One can’t stay on ridges forever, although it’s tempting. We took a side trail down, because it was going to be suppertime (and dark!) in a few hours. The internal whining started again: “I’m ready to be down at the bottom. I’m hungry. Are we there yet?”
But after all that, there is supper and home, and the memory of being up there.