June 09, 2009

Icicle River Gorge - Go Cougs!

Over Memorial Day weekend we headed to Leavenworth in order to be close to some great hikes. We're not necessarily fans of Leavenworth, but it's the jumping off point for so many great outdoor adventures that you have to suck it up and stay there.

We're not interested in souveneir shops or grilled brauts and beer so we went walking along the river the first evening in town. Here is a shot of the Wenatchee River from some rocks along its bank.
On the drive to the trailhead at the Chatter Creek Ranger Station the scenery is stunning. We would soon discover the road was washed-out about two miles from our destination. A bad storm last winter had resulted in the river changing course - right over the road. We would park not too far from the Ida Creek Campground and walk and extra hour along a make-shift trail to meet up with the road again and eventually the trailhead.
Here is the Icicle River raging along. It was disdurbing once we reached the "end of the road" to see this raging river running across the road. And it was a bit eerie to see water up in what was last winter the woods that run along the road.

But the most disturbing, but very exciting, part of the whole extra hour trek to the trailhead was the spotting of A REAL, LIVE COUGAR!!!!! Yep, only about 15 minutes into the hike, S declares, "Oh, my god look!" I look at her then look in the direction of where she is looking and caught the second half of the cougar as it walked into the woods, in the opposite direction of the road about 20 yards ahead of us. S indicated that the animal never looked our way, just sauntered from the roadside of the trail to the woods side. The long thick tail was unmistakable and the large paws are better viewed form a distance as far as I'm concered. A once in a lifetime sighting we have been told by many who hear this story.

I have to admit, I was especially uneasy for a while after the cougar crossed our path. As we crossed the section of trail where it crossed, I was particularly uneasy and was sure to make plenty of noise. Most distressing was the fact that this particular section of trail was very muddy so I was obliged to watch my feet and where I placed them rather than watch the woods where the cougar was probably sitting and smirking at us, hoping one of us might slip in the mire and become bogged down, unable to escape. As we continued to hike I became more excited about the sighting and less afraid.
Finally at the trailhead! From the road you quickly descend to this bridge to cross the river and begin the loop.
Some Indian Paintbrush.

The raging Icicle River.
Beautiful trillium.
The second amazing sighting of the day was the calypso orchid. You might easily step on it or overlook it. The first one we saw was just that, a single flower. We felt really lucky to have spotted it at all.
As we continued to hike, we noticed a few more, growing in small clusters. I wouldn't say we saw lots but we saw a handful of clusters. Considering how much ground we covered on this hike, we didn't see many. They really like very specific conditions and a particular soil fungus.
They stand only a few inches tall. A co-worker had tipped me off to look for these and I had forgot about them completely until I spotted one. My co-worker also told me to get down on the ground in order to appreciate the flowers subtle smell. Although I was near enough to photograph the flower up close, I completely forgot to test if it carries a scent.
Part of my head, some pines and some mountain as seen by S's sunglasses.
This is one of the best hikes we've done. Really spectacular. Very beautiful. Ponderosa pines, trillium, calypso orchids, some really odd fungi, blue skies, raging river, a great meadow, little elevation change, and countless opportunities to sit and watch the world go by. We would do this hike again even with the extra mileage to get to and from the trailhead to our car.
You can spot S hiking across the bridge. That fallen tree is leading the way.
This ponderosa pine, S's favorite tree, looks like it's leaning over to tell her a secret. Next time you are around ponderosas and the sun has warmed their bark, get up close and smell the woody vanilla scent that comes off the tree.


  1. jeannie10:25 AM

    beautiful trilium! (ours are white with a teenie yellow center)...And the calypso orchid! AWESOME! Go COUGS!

    Remember that John Denver song? He yodles... Aye, Calypso, the places you've been to, the things that you've shown us, the stories you tell! (but I think that's about a ship, not a flower.--oh well).

  2. That's so weird that you mention that song because I was singing it in my head all day yesterday.