Total Mileage: 68.42 over 3 days (26.77; 27.07; 14.58)
Total Elevation Gain: 2950’
Date: June 16-18, 2019
The Palouse to Cascades is a Rails-to-Trails route that starts at the Idaho/Washington Border and makes its way over Snoqualmie Pass and down to Rattlesnake Lake on the western slopes of the Cascades. The 285-mile trail takes in a diverse range of ecosystems as it crosses the state, from the semi-arid high desert in the east, to the lush evergreen forests in the west. Seth and I have been running it in bits while pushing a baby jogger loaded with our camping gear and food. It’s been a way for Seth to relive parts of his epic Transcon journey and for me to get a taste of that adventure. In the spring of 2018, we had a friend drop us off at Hyak, and we ran to the trail’s terminus at Rattlesnake Lake, then pressed onward and linked up a series of bike paths to get us all the way back to Seth’s doorstep in Lake Forest Park (75.48 miles over two days, bandit camping in a clump of trees within the Snoqualmie city limits.) Later that year, we covered the trail from South Cle Elum to Hyak (32.04 miles in 2 days, camping above the Yakima River, near Lake Easton.) There’s something incredible about covering miles on foot that you typically travel by automobile. Your sense of time, distance, and landscape readjusts to a human speed, and you appreciate the nuance and detail that is lost when speeding by at 70 miles per hour. It’s been a fun project, so we decided to take a little vacation before summer classes commenced and piece together another segment.
We had a fun night of laughter, campfire, and stargazing at our good friend Rich’s property in Ronald, WA and woke before dawn to get an early start. Seth’s truck had other plans, which resulted in getting towed to his friend Mike’s house east of Ellensburg. This set our start time back quite late, but we determined to go for it, despite the mercury rising. Mike graciously drove us to our start point near the Columbia River at Beverly Trestle. The old railroad trestle is closed, and we couldn’t find a good way down to dip our toe in the Columbia, so we’ll have to cover that ground in the future. Fortunately, the Washington State legislature passed a bill to fund the rebuilding of the trestle, which, when completed, will eliminate an elaborate—and dangerous—detour on the highway.
Baby jogger packed and bungee cords secured, we headed out into the heat of the day, sunrays streaming down. We would be crossing the Army’s Yakima Training Center, a 22 mile stretch of trail that runs through land used by the US Army, as well as visiting armies from around the world, to run practice drills. You have to be through the YTC before sundown, and there’s no water along the way. The day promised to be a scorcher.
Mike ran with us for a ways and also took a turn pushing the baby jogger. It was fun to have company on our strange adventure as we climbed from the Columbia River valley and up into the high desert. The landscape is such a stark contrast from our home in western Washington. It has a scorched earth appearance, with dried grasses and high hills, canyons carved into the reddish-brown basalt. It’s quite beautiful and calls to mind images of the wild west.
Eventually Mike turned around, and Seth and I continued on. Immersed in the high heat of the day, we took mini breaks anywhere we found even the slightest slip of shade to protect us from the sun’s relentless rays. We noticed two crows that seemed to be following us, squawking at us in a way that didn’t seem entirely friendly. The path wound through some cuts in the rock that rose high above the trail, and the crows would perch and call at us. These cuts in the rock were the best places to find shade, and at one point we decided to take a 10-minute dirt nap in a shade patch big enough for the both of us to be out of the sun. The crows landed, sounded a few deep clucks, and then we heard rockfall. The crows were knocking down large rocks from above, which seemed intended for us. Alarmed by the size of the rocks rolling down in our direction, we jumped up and took off. It was unbelievable to think, but it seemed very possible that the crows were trying to hit us with the rocks. We picked up our pace and finally left them behind. I’ve never known crows to be unkind, but this pair clearly didn’t want us there.
In the distance, we could see smoke billowing beyond the hills. As we drew closer, the sound of helicopter wings grew louder. On dirt roads that paralleled the trail, we saw Army vehicles filled with troops heading toward the smoke. Initially, we assumed that it was some sort of Army drill, but once we saw the helicopter dipping a bucket into a pond, we realized that they were fighting a wildfire. We paused to watch the chopper dip down, fill its bucket, then zoom off toward the smoke. It all felt a little surreal and a little unnerving.
Our water reserves were nearly tapped, and we had to make it to our water drop near the highway, on the other side of the YTC. We attempted a short cut through a tunnel on the original trail, but we soon understood why that way was closed. Apparently, there’s danger of parts of the ceiling falling down, so I’ll just say that one of us was not so keen on this attempted shortcut. The trail was overgrown and not ideal for pushing a baby jogger.
Giving up, we went back to the detour, which was longer but easier going. Another trestle marks the end of the YTC, and we had hopes of crossing it despite warnings not to. Do you see a pattern emerging here? One look decided it, as there was no floor. While we might have scurried across on foot, there was no way we’d be bringing the baby jogger along for that ride.
The sun was setting, and we raced to reach our water drop and figure out a camp for the night. Water secured, we ran along an access road that paralleled I-90 looking for a hidden spot to pitch our tent.
In the dusky light, we saw a little game trail that led up to a ledge above the road. It was, quite literally, the only option along this road, so we tried not to think too much about all that coyote scat on the game trail and made camp in a narrow gap between the thickets of sagebrush. Talk about wild bandit camping; we lay hidden just beyond the road, Interstate 90 roaring past mere yards away. Zapped by the hot run, we were able to catch some sleep despite our precarious little home for the night.
The next morning, we got an early start since we’d be on the access road for a few miles until the trestle detour linked back up with the trail. The dawn found us in a more pastoral landscape, in the agricultural valley surrounding Ellensburg. Near Thorp, I took a slight detour to the big fruit stand there. After a day and a half of dried and dehydrated foods, the prospect of fresh fruit was irresistible. I left with $30+ worth of apricots, plums, apples, and berries.
The hot day called for a short respite on the banks of the Yakima River. The thing about traveling by foot speed is that you experience every slight change of landscape, and you physically feel the shift from high desert to green river valley. The day was still hot, but the landscape less harsh. We dozed off, lulled by the water tranquilly rippling past.
Back on our feet, we traced the upstream path of the Yakima River, eyeballing the water to determine if we could return one day with packrafts for a run/paddle adventure. The banks were largely high and steep, with few places to easily access the river.
As the second day drew to a close, we spent considerable time scouting out a campsite. We hoped to be out of sight from the trail but also needed a way to reach the river to collect water. Eventually, we found a nice spot under a pine tree and settled in for the night.
The next morning, the trail took us through a tunnel and inched toward the Cascades.
Way ahead of schedule, we stopped at a picnic table to kill time with books, podcasts, naps, and snacks. We chatted with passersby, including two guys riding across the state on their bikes (and giving us ideas for routing the Olympic Peninsula section) and a couple with a sweet dog who lived on a ridge with a view of the Stewart Range that they bought dirt cheap because it was near a powerline. People are always curious when they see us with the baby jogger and no baby, and it has led to some nice conversations with strangers (as well as a stern scolding from a woman who thought we had a baby in the jogger and panicked when she saw us recklessly letting it careen down the trail.) We rolled into South Cle Elum later that afternoon, where Rich picked us up and hosted us for the night, offering showers, real food, and kind company. It was a delightful way to end this installment of our across-the-state baby jogger project.