skittles on stegosaurus butte

Adam and I left the house at lunchtime and headed up to the Cascades for an easy hike on a sunshine-filled Monday afternoon in the Pacific Northwest. Our destination was Stegosaurus Butte above the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. I’ve been intrigued by Stegosaurus for a long time and was excited to finally be hiking it. And I’m happy to report the unofficial hiker-path up this forested blob actually leads to a wonderful vista. This was a nice day walking in the mountains. The short path had some interesting surprises and Adam did a really good job with the thousand feet of elevation gain.

The climax of the day was the humongous owl we met toward the top, a very impressive specimen! Presumably a “she” because of her impressive size, the owl was in no hurry and we got to watch her for about a half hour. At one point, we got within 30-60 feet of her. She’d fly higher in the woods and so we would slowly walk up the path to a spot closer to her new perch, whereupon we’d observe her for 5 minutes or so before creeping closer (whereupon she’d fly to another tree….. the three of us would repeat this cycle several times). It was positively electric watching her head swivel back and forth, periodically locking her eyes on us. I tried to identify her in my field guide tonight, she most closely resembled a Great Horned Owl. I didn’t attempt to document her with a picture, fearing the zipper on my camera bag or the clicking of the shutter would spook her and ruin our chance for a studied observation. In the shadows she was mottled dark brown, but on a sunny perch with her back to us she blended in amazingly with the silver bark of the fir.

Adam surprised me with his stamina on this path. We took plenty of rest breaks, but I was pleasantly caught off guard when he surged up several steep pitches. Our last two hikes together have been incredibly rewarding for me. I’ve had to pinch myself. No, I’m not carrying him! We’re really hiking together!  Against my better judgement I let him eat an entire small bag of Skittles at our cliffside perch. How could I not? He earned it. I figured he’d burn off all the sugar on the way down. The descent was nerve-wracking at times, for me. The path up Stegosaurus Butte is so short as to be a mellow outing, but it does forgo switchbacks on the upper half and there are a few steep-as-heck sections. Adam insisted on not using his trekking poles for the descent and despite heeding my counsel to keep his center of gravity low, a few times I thought he was guaranteed to pitch forward and face-plant in the duff! He only had one fall, fortunately that one was on his butt and I’m pretty sure it was on purpose.

There are two main viewpoints along the forested spine of Stegosaurus. The one facing north offers a very filtered but nevertheless incredible perspective of towering Mt. Garfield. A couple hundred feet in the woods on the other side of the ridge is the south-facing perspective of the Middle Fork. It’s a wonderful opening in the forest, granite cliffs that fall away to a dark green valley. In the picture of Adam below, the snowy peak in the distance is Preacher Mountain.

Skittles on Stegosaurus

We were the last party to leave the trailhead (for the Gateway Bridge over the MFK Snoqualmie). It was a quiet day up there, we didn’t see another living soul on Stegosaurus Butte (except for Ms. Owl and a few harmless mosquitoes).  I grieve a little in my soul when I ponder how that will probably change next year when the Middle Fork road is paved (scheduled for Fall 2014). The horrible potholes and washouts have been a pain in the butt all these years (and a money-pit for taxpayers) but they’ve probably helped keep this area from being positively over-run. I’m fascinated by how the character of this area may change in the next ten years, for the better and for the worse. I don’t think Stegosaurus Butte will stay quiet for much longer. It seems like a no-brainer that eventually an official trail will be built up Stegosaurus, keeping in line with Harvey Manning’s vision. I hope the people who pooh-pooh the charms of Stegosaurus Butte are right and that the hordes will stick to Mt. Si and Rattlesnake Ledge.

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