Chatter Creek

Trail No. 1580

SEPTEMBER 12, 2009  The weather forecast called for sun and warm temperatures, so I poured through my trail guide books looking for a hike worthy of the weather.  This hike on the Chatter Creek Trail near Leavenworth promised it all:  open forests, sweeping views, and a sparkling alpine lake on a high ridge.  It also promised a rugged, steep trail, a long hike made longer with a road walk to reach the trailhead, and 4500' of elevation gain.  The trail delivered on all of these promises. 

A landslide in the spring of 2008 re-routed the Icicle River onto FS Road 76, closing the road and access to many favorite trails past the Ida Creek Campgrounds.  A by-pass trail was built around the washed out section of road to give hikers access to these trails, and many hikers look on the road closure as a bonus.  Although you won't find yourself alone in the wilderness, the extra miles thin out the crowds.  The Chatter Creek Trail trail winds its way through open forest on a seemingly aimless course for the first mile.  After several minutes of hiking this meandering trail, you start to wish that the trail would just get down to business and go somewhere.  At 1 mile, the trail crosses Chatter Creek and does just that--it climbs steeply through beautiful Ponderosa groves, starts to switchback, enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and then gets serious about climbing to a hanging valley.  The woods in the hanging valley are denser than the Ponderosa forest, and the trail levels out somewhat as it follows the creek.  Grindstone Mountain dominates the scenery as you finally break out of the woods, and the trail begins to climb in earnest.  It switchbacks briefly then charges up a rocky gully on a near vertical course.

It was here, at 6100', that I turned back.  I was about 1/2 mile from the ridge and 1 mile from Lake Edna with another 700' to climb.  The nagging little headache that had been keeping me company all day grew exponentially in the heat of the day, and I conceded the hike.  I stopped in the cool of the forest to filter water before heading back down and chatted with a scrambler who also conceded her climb up Grindstone Mountain and turned back at 7400".

This was a great hike nonetheless.  Fall is my favorite time of year, and the woods were rich with color and texture and bustling with activity.  I startled a pair of grouse in the lower forest, and I saw countless squirrels and chipmunks.  The bushes rustled as I walked past, and whenever I stopped to peer in, the dark eyes of little birds peered back at me.  I heard pikas in the rock gardens but although I listened for them, I didn't hear any marmots whistling.   I didn't see any bears, either, but scat on the road indicated that they were present and feasting on berries.  I watched as a yellow jacket gorged itself on juicy red berries.  If I think of my early season hikes as wildflower hikes, then I would have to classify this hike as a wild berry hike.  I saw snowberries, blue elderberries, red elderberries, thimbleberries, and huckleberries.  There were pin cherries, red currants, wax currants, rose hips, and the berries of the mountain ash, Oregon grape, false Solomon's seal, red-osier dogwood, devils' club, and twisted stalk.  The forest was bursting with its bounty, and every living thing in the woods was busy gathering and gorging. 

The coming of  fall means that the days are getting shorter, making it harder to fit in these longer hikes in the allotted daylight hours.  We lose almost 3 1/2 minutes of daylight every day, which doesn't seem like much until it accumulates--that 3 1/2 minutes a day translates to 1 1/2 fewer daylight hours in a month's time.  Sun sets at 7:30 now and it's fully dark by 8:00--sooner in the shadows of the mountains and under the canopy of the trees. 

 Approximately 12 1/2 miles

3500' gain