These unknown ridges first piqued my curiosity last summer. No, two summers ago, when I first ran Rock Mountain. There were trails up there, I knew, a trail that ran the length of the ridge, providing vistas for miles and miles. There didn't seem to be much information, though; nor, it seemed, did much of the trail see much use. Maps made it seem as if water access could be an issue, too. But the views? Topography assured me the vistas – north to Glacier and her assorted guardians (including the whole array of biblical peaks), down and across to Lake Wenatchee and Dirtyface, west into the heart of the Cascades, south into the Chiwaukums, east to the Entiat and Chelan ranges.
Two summers ago, I only had time for a quick run up and down Rock Mountain. Last summer, I wasn't ready to run it without more intel. This summer, though, I'd fewer qualms. I was ready, and I had a little more experience in the area. So, after camping a night at Nason Creek1, Kerr drove me to the trailhead where, after scarfing down a few pieces of cold pizza, I was off. The trail rose gradually, just as the sun burnt the sky over Lake Wenatchee and Fish Lake into a delicate rose. The lower trail showed obvious work, and though my legs didn't seem to want to climb, I made steady progress up.
Though the first few miles of Nason Ridge are open to dirt bikes – and are regularly used – they didn't show many signs of abuse. Nor, given the early hour, did I see anyone else out. I ran into a bit of blowdown as I neared Round Mountain, but these inconveniences were just that – inconveniences. The day was young and the day was beautiful and the day stretched full of promise ahead of me.
From Round Mountain, the trail worked steadily along the ridge, rolling gently through alpine meadows and forest, undulating between high vistas and serene saddles, working up to a high lookout; this section of trail, too, appeared to see some semi-regular use. From the lookout I saw the bowl to which the trail worked next, having this spring visited a still frozen Lake Merritt housed there. From the lookout I also recognized a rocky clearing yet farther down: The Merritt Lake trailhead. Of course, by trail it was still ten miles and – little did I know – at least two hours away.
I'd little notion from the lookout that I was about to embark on such less-used trail. Disappearing switchbacks came first, followed by brush that swallowed me whole in my pursuit of a thin dirt line. When next the trail opened up, I found myself at the Lost Lake junction. A detour seemed toe most natural thing, so a detour I took. From Lost Lake to Merritt to the trailhead and back, the trail was well-used, loved – but still (perhaps as a result of the still-early hour?) empty. I'd seen this trail, before; I knew Merritt Lake. This day, the unfamiliar interested me, the trail of least use. Back to Nason Ridge, back to the thin line heading west, I pressed.
Where precisely the unfamiliar I found. Through thick blowdown I navigated, in open wooded slopes; the lightly whistling wind spoke to me of age, of quiet knowledge, of space seemingly forgotten, a treasure in her own quiet right. I'd seen Kerri at the Nason Ridge trailhead, hours ago, and had stumbled by a few sleeping hikers beside the trail in the first few miles. Since then, though? I'd had the trail to myself. Hours of solitude. Me, my feet, the trail. Forgotten trails as this offer exploration, I thought, and on this day, I found the thought especially fitting.
I made the trail my own, learning to read it as it winked in and out of brush, wove under and through blowdown, through alpine meadows and up and down timbered slopes. With each passing mile, the trail grew in beauty; even as I could still occasionally hear the highway far below, these miles felt remote. I worked my way down a mossy waterfall that also doubled as a trail, nearly lost a shoe in a bog, took a dip in a granite pool. I scrambled up and on to a rocky ledge to drink in the vista: Alpine meadows below me, big peaks surrounding me, quiet blue skies above me. Around the next bend I found myself in the Rock Lake basin, a still mirror resting in the granite bowl below; snow fields – streaked with pink “watermelon snow” - littered the slopes surrounding, even as the first wildflowers bloomed at my feet.
Following the trail here may have been impossible, buried under snow as much of it was, but I knew roughly where I was going. Around the bowl, up to the peak, back down – then onward along the ridge. But the weather was stirring, changing: I felt it in the hairs on my arm, on the back of my neck, in the plummeting temperatures. Twenty degrees it fell, in the matter of minutes. I was up high, exposed – with no firsthand knowledge of the trail yet stretching before me. I'd no good estimation of how long the trail remained exposed, or what potential shelter loomed, should the heavens open up. It felt as if it could snow; from shorts and a t-shirt at run's start, I now wore all the layers I carried.
I trusted the sky as much as I trusted the trail ahead'd been much maintained. As the temperatures dropped, the snow fields lost their soft luster, turning instead slippery, icy. I needed to lose elevation – and, as the temperature continued dropping, I needed to do so quickly.
I backtracked. Found the Rock Mountain trail, and scampered down. By the time I'd dropped 1500 feet, snow patches were intermittent, and temperatures more bearable. By the time I lost another 500, the trail was dusty and dry. I was back in shorts and a t-shirt. Oh well.
Part way down I ran into Kerri, on her way up. At the car, though I'd originally planned on returning to the ridge, I remembered the weather I'd just come from – and called it a day. Tallying it later: 31.4 miles, just more than 12k' vertical gain, nearly nine hours on my feet, infinite beauty and joy in such solitude. Already we're plotting ways back...
When You Go
Several trails access Nason Ridge trail #1583 – and all of them are good options for shortening your day or seeing something a little different. Trails to consider: Round Mountain #1529, Merritt Lake #1588, Rock Mountain #1587, and Snowy Creek #1531. Be sure to take a map – we recommend Adventure Maps' Wenatchee and Leavenworth trail map – and do your homework. Craig Romano's guidebook, Day Hiking the Central Cascades, is a good resource for familiarizing yourself with some of the trails, as are previous users' write-ups at Wenatchee Outdoors or the Washington Trails Association. Be safe, practice Leave No Trace, and have fun!
1. Nason Creek Campground – Never again. Not our scene. What Kerri and I are realizing is that we like primitive camping, pit toilets or no toilets, quiet sites where we sleep at night and leave to play elsewhere during the day. Nason Creek is the sort of campground where people have family reunions, fishing on the creek maybe, or riding their bikes through the campground, but mostly stoking their fires and drinking beers or hanging out inside their Rvs. Nothing wrong with that – but it's not our idea of camping. Reading that the campground had flush toilets probably should have been our first indicator to camp elsewhere.