Umtanum Ridge

Yakima Skyline Ridge Trail

APRIL 5, 2009  It was hard to decide which trail to hike this weekend, and it wasn't until Sunday morning that I finally committed to a hike.  Since I hoped for sun, sweeping views, wildflowers and wildlife, a hike on Umtanum Ridge seemed to be the place for me.  I headed to Selah with guidebook in hand and hopes of seeing bighorn sheep. 

After the requisite stop at the Indian John Hill rest area for views of the incomparable Mt. Stuart and the Stuart Range, I headed towards Selah and Yakima.   Misadventure was in store for me when I tried to follow the guidebook’s driving directions.  It wasn’t until I finally tossed the book aside in disgust and stopped at a visitor’s center for a local map that I finally made it to the parking area.  By this time I was a little wary of the author’s directions, so I decided not to drive through the gate of the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation area and instead started my hike from the parking lot 1 ½ miles from the “official trailhead” of the Yakima Skyline Ridge trail.   I was there to hike, after all, and the road walk was not bad.  This was probably a wise choice; although I am not a timid driver, my car is not 4-wheel drive and these ruts are deep. 

I haven’t always appreciated the stark landscape of Eastern Washington, but last year I found refuge from the long winter on a day hike in Yakima's Cowiche Canyon.  It was a good lesson in learning to see with new eyes, and since then,  I have come to enjoy an occasional hike in the wide-open expanses of the brush-steppe.  The eastern climate is too hot and dry for my taste after mid-May, but I’ve been looking forward to the early wildflower season for months. 

The trail is not marked, but I started up an old jeep track that climbed steeply up a ravine.  It soon turned into a narrow, rocky trail that wasted no time getting to the ridge.  It is a delightful trail to hike, and song birds flew out of bushes ahead of me in a particularly muddy section.  Wildflowers distracted me from the steepness of the trail, and before long I found myself on Umtanum Ridge, where the trail hugs the rim and continues on seemingly forever.   The views were amazing:  On one side was a sheer drop to the Yakima River; on the other side, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams.  Several birds of prey were lazily circling upwards in a thermal.  I climbed up on a sunny rock overlooking the river for lunch while the birds sang around me.   I could have spent many hours on the ridge, and it was with great reluctance that I finally shouldered my pack and hiked out without seeing any wildlife other than a few robins, magpies, and the birds climbing on the thermal.  Oh, and one little mud-brown lizard that blended so well with the trail and darted across my path so quickly that I couldn’t identify it. 

The day was not to be over without another misadventure, though, and I found myself confronted with waiting “in excess of four hours” in a 13-mile backup at Snoqualmie Pass (where soaring temperatures created an avalanche hazard) or driving north through Blewett Pass and west on Highway 2.  I chose to drive rather than wait, and so did everyone else.  Lots of everyone elses.  The small towns of Leavenworth, Gold Bar, Startup and Sultan were overwhelmed by a flood of vehicles, and my drive home took nearly 7 hours. 

8 miles
1280' gain