Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wynoochee Lakeshore Trail - flirting with hypothermia

Wynoochee dam reflections at end of hike

I recently learned that Wynoochie is not 75 miles from my home, it is actually only 45 miles from home.  There is a shorter route that I  did not know about.  The best bonus of the the shorter route is that it does not go through McCleary.

 Armed with this new to me information, I decided that Wynoochee was within dayhikng range after all.  Did I mention that this route avoids McCleary?

This trail has been on my to do list for years but I thought it was too far away to do in the winter.  Also it has a big river ford that would be best done in the summer.  In the summer I’d rather be in the high country, so I never got around to doing this hike.  I’ve yet to see a trip report posted by anyone who did the entire loop in one day.

I arrived at the trailhead and started my hike at about 9:30.  The plan was to ford the Wynoochee river and do the whole 12 mile loop, or turn back at the ford if the river was too high.  Taking the 16 mile loop that avoids the river ford was not an option this time.  I don't like 16 mile long hikes.

Even with the Wynoochee river ford, the trail now takes a huge detour
onto logging roads in order to avoid fording  a smaller river.

Video of most of the hike

I started my hike at the dam, not the campground, and I headed north up the east shore of the lake.  Thus, I did the hike counter clock wise.  I read that the east shore had bigger trees and was nicer.  The trail goes in and out of old growth, but there is very little old growth to be seen.  The forest here has been treated savagely by the timber industry and logging roads run all along the lake. 

The trail has many sections that are on logging roads.  Still, I found total solitude here on a rainy February day.  There were no other hikers, there was no road traffic, I only heard one airplane all day long and the campground was empty.  I really enjoyed my 8 hours of solitude and I will return in spite of this not being a terribly pretty trail.

 The lake is only rarely seen from the trail, the trail is well above the lake and in the woods or on a road most of the way.  There is a lot of windfall on the trail but most of it was easy to navigate over, under or around.  It only got sketchy in a few places.

I reached the ford at what I thought was about noon and my plan was to have lunch on the other side.  The ford looked easy.  The river looked to be lower than my knees!  So I rolled my pants up above my knees, put on my river crossing shoes and headed across.

  I quickly learned that the river was much deeper than it looked.  I ended up going in up to my crotch and I got my pants soaking wet in the cold water.  (thank chance that I was born with ovaries!) At least the current was very slow and I was never in any danger of falling.

 I was however in danger of getting hypothermia and I was 6.5 miles from my car.  The water was very cold and to make matters worse heavy mixed rain and snow started falling right after I forded.  There was no point in putting on my rain pants since I was already soaked from the waist down.

I knew it would not be wise to stop and have lunch, Patches was shivering and I was cold too.  I needed to keep moving so we could warm up.  I had a hard time finding the trail on the other side of the river eventually I gave up looking and just brush crashed until I found it.  I got the feeling that very few people use the trail after the ford.  After I found the trail, I had to navigate a maze of counter intuitive logging roads before the trail started to head back south.  I'm so glad that the route was well marked.

I looked at my watch; I thought the time was going to be about 12:30, I was shocked to find that the time was 1:50.   Where did the time go?  I had to keep moving so I could get off this unfamiliar windfall covered trail before dark.  

Along the way I saw a big bull elk.

I hiked until about 3:00 and then I realized that I had gone all day without drinking anything. Surly I must be dehydrated; I had hiked 10 miles!  But I did not feel at all thirsty. Also I was having trouble opening my sea to summit dry sacks, so I knew that mild hypothermia had set in.

  At about 4:30 I reached the “Scatter Creek Wet Crossing”.  After I made the wet crossing I stopped and ate lunch and drank a bunch of cold river water followed by a cup of HOT coffee.  I felt light headed, I was dehydrated and hungry.

At this point, I also put on dry socks and put on every layer of clothing that I had.  I did not take a long lunch break because darkness was falling and Patches was cold.  Even dressed in every layer I had (except for my arctic emergency mittens) I was just barely warm enough.  I would have used some  hand warmers but they would not have worked too well in the wet.

I reached Coho camp at about 5:30 and then I walked on the road for ½ mile until I reached my Jeep.  There was a shorter route to my Jeep, but I did not know that.  I was back at my Jeep at 5:45.  I had a hot thermos full of tea waiting for me in my Jeep and I needed it!  Since Patches was wet and cold I let her ride on the back seat instead of putting her in her crate.

The next time I do this hike I will:
1) Strip down to shorts before fording the river
2) Pack a coat for Patches and put it on her after the ford.
3) Remind myself to drink water even if I am cold.
4) Pack more extra clothes than usual.
5) Eat lunch / brew tea before ford.  Drink hot tea after ford.
6) Have even more of a blast than I had this time.

My new Event rain jacket kept my torso bone dry in spite of the 8 hours of continuous rain, but it did sog out.  Still I was dry because it was a fairly level trail and I don’t sweat very much when I am cold.

This is not a hike for the meek or for or inexperienced hiker.  Stick to the interpretive trail unless you have ovaries of steel.

I credit my 5th grade camp at Cottage Lake Elementary school for my survival on this hike.  In camp they taught us all about hypothermia and drilled a two things into our heads over and over.  One: When your feet get cold, put on a hat. Two:  Wind, Wet and Cold cause hypothermia.  As soon as I got wet I knew I could be in trouble.  I had wet and cold, but there was no wind.  If there had been wind I would have put my rain pants on.  I probably should have put them on anyway.

The drive home in the rain was dark and dreary and I did not see a single car in all of Grays Harbor County but it was a great relief to not have to drive through McCleary.

13 miles with about 1,000 feet total ascent

I could have saved some distance here if I knew my way around better
The thick blue line is my route, thin red line is the trail

Snake skin liverwort with young sporophytes forming

I forded slightly up steam from here

Patches negotiates a blowdown

Queen Patches got to sit on the seat for the trip home

Chicken of the woods fungi grow on top of a fallen old growth tree
East side of Lake

Too bad the forest was all cut down!

I guess there were no TESC field trips to this place

A bad attempt at a good pano, near the ford, looking towards the lake


Trailhead that I started at



River Level below the dam went up a lot while I was hiking
but does this reflect the river flow above the dam where I forded?
I think the level of the lake was lowered  in preparation for a large amount
of rainfall expected in the next few days.

Where we forded

Kindbergia oregana

Lobaria oregona growing on a hardwood alder tree.   It prefers to grow on conifers.
Neckeria douglasii moss

Very late lunch at Scatter Creek ford


My car is waiting on the other side of the bridge

Trail near the start on the east side of the lake

1.5 miles to Coho camp, 2 miles to my car

overlook from northwest end of lake / river

Where we forded did not look so deep!



Anonymous said...

nice adventure. a little scary though.

Dennis Rogers said...

Thank you for posting this. Very cool.