Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sekrit peat bog at Church Creek headwaters

The headwaters of Church Creek

I think the last time I hiked with Phil was almost a year ago.  Phil likes to explore off trail in the high country around Mount Tebo and Church Creek and the Wynoochee .  I love that area too, there is no place else just like it.

The old growth forest there is unique, but it was all slated for logging, if logging had continued unchecked under the 100 year sustained yield Shelton unit,  this area would have been that last area to be razed.  Luckily this area was saved just before Simpson could cut down every last speck of old growth.  Logging roads were built, they clearly intended to log it all, but they got stopped just in time.

decommissioned road

This hike took us down one of those roads.  The road was built and then a tiny bit of logging took place and then the logging was stopped.  Later the road was decommissioned.  Decommissioned roads are really difficult to hike down, they are all torn up and covered with rocks and weeds.  If only they would have left a little path for hikers and cyclists when they destroyed the road.  Better  yet, if only they had left these roads alone, nature would have reclaimed them in a much gentler way and they would be much more fun to hike on.

Anyway, the goal was to reach a sekrit peat bog that Phil used to drive to back before everything went to hell.  This was a place that Phil loved to visit, but the last time he tried to visit it he found that the road was in the process of being torn up and he thought he would never be able to see it again. Then Phil met me and I showed him that with a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears these destroyed roads could be hiked down, so now Phil is a hiker.  The last time Phil got to visit his favorite bog was in 1995.

After stopping to repair a flat tire we drove to the Church Creek trail. The Church Creek trail was mostly forgotten about after it had been bisected by logging.   Then the  Mountaineers
re-opened it about ten years ago and they continue to maintain it.

THANK YOU mountaineers!   

This trail originally started at the Church Creek Shelter on the Skokomish River and then made its way over the divide to Satsop Lakes and then I think, all the way to the Wynoochee River.  Unfortunately logging destroyed about five miles of the trail, so it is now divided up onto two separate trails, the Church Creek trail and the Church Creek Shelter trail.

We gained about 1,000 feet  on the Church Creek trail to reach the point where it was routed along an old never used logging road.  Where the trail diverges from the logging road and goes back into the forest is where we left the trail and continued on the decommissioned logging road instead.  
The road was a mess to hike on, but not quite as messed up as say the old road up to Prospect Ridge or the lower part of the 400 road that goes along Brown Creek.   But still, it’s tough going, it's hot and rough and slanted and rocky and decorated with downed trees and logs.   We went up the road until it topped out at 3,500 feet and we had a peek-a-boo view of the Wynoochee River.
Then we realized we had gone to high, the road was not where it was supposed to be on the maps.   We had made a wrong turn at an intersection of what we thought was a loop and we ended up above the bog and it was not clear how we were going to get down to it. 

Eventually we found a route down that was not too bad.  We had to negotiate a steep slope, boulders, downed logs and snow to get down to the bog.

Working our way down to the bog from the road

Working our way down to the bog from the road
The bog was very pretty and it was a bryologist’s heaven.  There was peat moss and all kinds of liverworts to look at there, plus frogs and frog's eggs.  Such a beautiful spot;  I would like to go back and camp there and make a day of exploring the flora there before the mosquitos hatch.

We, however did not have time for much exploring.   We only had time for a quick cup of tea and then we had to go.  We opted to hike out via the lower half of the unloop because we did not want to have to go back up that snow chute, but the lower unloop was longer and as we were about to learn it was a bit treacherous.  Oh, did I forget to mention that we did not start our hike until almost noon?

Phil makes expresso on top of
a peat mound that he last sat on in 1995

Peat moss

I made tea on a bed of Niphotrichum moss

peat moss

Mylia tayloria liverwort
On the lower unloop of the decommissioned road  the damage done in the name of stopping erosion was especially savage, with gigantic gorges dug into the earth. (They say this prevents erosion, but I’m not sure how)  The gorges looked impassable.  Would we have to turn back and retrace our steps and go back up the snowy chute?  We had to cross three dicey looking gorges and it was starting to get dark and I was running on just two power bars because I was dieting.  Then, I learned that Phil had no headlamp.  Okay, we are playing with fire now, I thought!  Also we were going to have to drive out on a donut tire and we had no spare tire.
One of the dicey ravines dug into the old roadbed

We made it across the gorges without dying and eventually we made it back to the spot where the trail follows the road, but before we got there I found a bunch of Black Fruited Stink moss (Tetraplodon mnoides).  This is a very rare moss in Washington State and it is ranked S1.  No doubt that tearing up all the roads destroyed a bunch of this moss.

Tetraplodon mnoides

By the time we got back down to the Church Creek trail  it was dark enough for me to want to turn on my headlamp.  Phil did not have a headlamp, so we had to go kind of slow, but at the same time we wanted to go kind of fast so we could make it out of there before it was too dark for Phil to see at all!
It was good and dark by the time we got back to the Jeep, but there was a full moon.  The drive back out to the pavement was slower because we were running on a donut tire and the Jeep does not have high beams. 

I finally made it home at 11pm.  Luckily I had warned my husband that I might not be home before dark, so he was not worried about me.
This was a somewhat short, but very rough hike due to the state of the roads, so I am very tired today.  I am also sunburned.  Those old torn up roads are baking hot and fully exposed due to being widened by decommissioning, they are also havens for ticks and invasive weeds. 
 Sooo these hikes are not particularly fun, but if you want to see some of the really kewl stuff up high in the National Forest and have it all to yourself, it’s a price you have to pay.  I'll be back.
I believe that the route we took back down is the route to climb Church Mountain.  It used to only be a 5 miles one way hike to climb Church Mountain.  I think it’s about 10 miles one way now that the road has been savagely destroyed, so it's no longer a dayhike for most people.

7.5 miles with 1,700 feet elevation gain 3,200 feet total elevation gain according to Google earth

track in Google earth

A panorama of savage logging practices and ruined roads

On top of the divide between Wynoochee and Skokomish
We saw the Wynoochee river from up there

A funny looking conk

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