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Monday, July 27, 2009

Hike Reports: Viewing the Pratt Valley

Posted by Terry Fernsler

Visiting the proposed Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions—from a different angle

Expecting cloudy weather, but getting an almost-perfect hiking day instead, I got myself up early to hike to Mt. Defiance and beyond recently. I like to go early for a number of reasons—the air is usually clearer in the morning for better photos, there’s a better chance I’ll see a large critter before they go to ground for the day, and I can enjoy the wild with few intrusions from loud-voiced people.

Mt. Defiance looks over the South Fork Snoqualmie River Valley and Interstate 90. It’s a rigorous, but not grueling, hike to the top of Mt. Defiance, starting at the trailhead of the Ira Spring Trail, at about 2,200 feet, and climbing in less than five miles to 5,584 feet. Not a steep climb, but long. From Mt. Defiance the trail goes on to Thompson Lake, on the western edge of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

I hit the trail before 6:30. The walk was pleasant, not getting into sunlight until I crossed the ridge above Mason Lake, where I passed from the proposed wilderness additions into Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I crept past the still-sleeping campers at Mason Lake. The trail reached the open meadow on the side of Mt. Defiance, and the views were fantastic. Mason Lake and Little Mason snuggled below, tucked between Mt. Defiance and Bandera (pictured below). Mt. Rainier and Little Tahoma, although distant, looked very close. Flowers of many colors speckled the mountain side.

The side trail that goes to the top of Mt. Defiance is steep but the views (on a clear day) are well worth it. One can look straight into the heart of the western Alpine Lakes Wilderness, up the South Fork Snoqualmie Valley to Snoqualmie Pass, and even see Glacier Peak peeking out above the mountains to the north. In this photo (across the Pratt Valley) of Mt. Roosevelt, the existing Alpine Lakes Wilderness comes down the mountain to just about the bottom of the bare rock. The proposed additions are down slope from there.

This is common to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and many of our state’s existing wilderness areas: the protected areas are high-altitude, often above tree line. Protecting forests, especially lowland forests, is important for ecosystem maintenance and preserving carbon sinks; that’s one of the things that makes the proposed Alpine Lakes additions so vital.

The trail between Mt. Defiance and Thompson Lake was not only more rugged and less traveled, it was wilder. Behind the slope of the ridge I could no longer hear the noise of the Interstate traffic, and the slopes on this side of the ridge are quite steep. The steep slopes offered terrific views of the Spider Creek and Thompson Creek drainages, both part of the proposed Alpine Lakes additions. In view below of the Thompson Creek Valley, nearly everything in the valley is in the proposed Alpine Lakes additions, right to the top of Preacher Mountain across the Pratt Valley. You can just see the Garfield Bench (which is across the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Valley) peeking over the shoulder of Preacher Mountain, and Cascade Mountain beyond that.

By the time I was coming back from Thompson Lake, the sun had been shining down on the trail for several hours, and the hike back felt much longer than the hike in. Fortunately, there was a gentle breeze, which felt especially good in the shade.

The Pratt Valley was left out of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill in 1976 because of the possibility of timber harvest in the valley. The valley had been logged as recently as 90 years ago, but today it has greater value for its trout and other wildlife habitat and its importance as a carbon sink. It was inspiring to see so much of the wild area that is Alpine Lakes that is already protected, and to see the rich Pratt Valley from a different angle.

View a proposal map for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness additions or find what you can do to help.

Terry Fernsler is the Executive Director of Washington Wilderness Coalition.

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