Saturday, September 4, 2010

Stehekin Trip 2010

Stehekin...."the way through" , the Indians named it that because it was one of the few travel routes through the formidable barrier of the North Cascades. They traveled to trade between tribes east of the mountains and tribes on the Puget Sound coast and beyond.

You can't drive to Stehekin there are no roads to get there. You get there either by foot, hoofstock, float plane or boat. This was the 2nd trip for me, something like the 16th for my friend, Tara, and the first for my other friends, Ellen and Lacey.

It is 18 miles in by horseback/foot leaving from Bridge Creek trailhead on Rainy Pass. The trail is beautiful, rugged and sometimes a bit treacherous with narrow rocky paths etched into the side of mountains.

We left at 9 in the morning with the intention of making it to Stehekin Valley Ranch for dinner. I started out leading on my new horse, Max. Max, is a 7 year old Kiger mustang gelding who has had previous mountain experience. Ellen was riding the only experienced horse/mule on this route, Ganny (Gandolf), who is part of Tara's herd. Lacey was riding Stormy. Stormy is a Tennessee Walker mare and the mother of the two mules on the trip, Bert and Ernie (Ernestine) that Tara was riding (Bert) and packing (Ernie).

After a while Max started slowing down so Stormy took the lead and kept up a ground covering pace. We encountered all kinds of footing, water, mud, log bridges high over rivers, slippery rock and all the horses/mules did exceptionally well. There was a bit of hesitation on the mule-lettes and Stormy's part but with a bit of encouragement from Ganny the Wise, they decided it wasn't too much to be concerned about.

At this point I have to apologize for my pics. In 20/20 hindsight I never should have taken a fairly new camera, with a brand new lens that I was totally unfamiliar with. I should have taken a point and shoot and I would have had lots of great photos to share. At least I can still share a few pics to give the feeling of the trip.

Ellen in front on Ganny followed by Lacey on Stormy.

Lunch stop
Switchbacks going down to river.....

We encountered a few hikers, one with a dog and backpack that gave the mule kids some serious pause. Even Stormy wasn't too sure about these grotesquely misshapen humans and their dog. It took a bit of work on Tara's and Lacey's parts to get Stormy, Bert and Ernie convinced it was ok to walk by and turn your back on these "creatures".

On the Stehekin side of the mountains we encountered a sow bear and her cub on the trail. We patiently waited while she grazed and finally ambled up the mountainside away from the trail and our attentive horses/mules. Ellen/Ganny, Lacey/Stormy, me/Max

As we got closer to Stehekin, on a narrow, rocky trail we had to turn around go back out quite a ways and find a spot to get off the trail because we met another group of horse riders and they outnumbered us (rule of who has to turn around.....) It was difficult to make ourselves go back as we were definitely ready to get off our horses/mules!

We did make it in for dinner that night. One thing that is great about the Stehekin Valley Ranch is all your meals are included with your lodging (tent cabin or cabin with "indoor" plumbing). Meals including wonderful baked goods from the Stehekin Valley Bakery. They make the most delicious fresh fruit/nut pies and breads. They have a regular menu and a special of the night. The night we arrived it was BBQ ribs/chicken, Sat night was prime rib and Sunday was baked chicken.

After we unloaded our gear, settled the horses/mules in their pole corrals with some hay we headed to the main lodge for dinner and to chat with Sandy who took the boat up from Chelan to spend the weekend with us. Sandy is an old teaching friend of Tara's (old in that they have known each other for a long time) :)

We spent the next two days resting our weary bodies and eating to nourish ourselves to get ready for the ride out on Monday. Sunday another friend, Erika, took the boat in from Chelan. She planned to hike out with us back to Rainy Pass.

It was great having two days to enjoy the area of Stehekin. The Stehekin River is so pristine, we could look down from the bridge and see fish like we were looking through glass. Almost made me wish I had brought along a fishing pole.

Lacey and Ellen enjoying the sun on the riverbank.

We took the bus into Stehekin town "proper" and waited for Erika to arrive while admiring the lake and taking a tour of the interpretive center.

Looking towards Stehekin Valley Ranch from Lake Chelan.

Ellen and Lacey enjoying the Lake.

Heading out on Monday morning, now with the addition of Erika on foot, we pass Coon Lake on the way out of the Stehekin Valley.

Ellen/Ganny, Lacey/Stormy, me/Max
Tara on Bert with Ernie being the perfect pack mule.
Erika Riding along a wide part of the Pacific Crest TrailThe weather started to turn nasty on us and we had to ride in intermittent rain storms, it was cold enough that it was snowing on the higher elevation above us. We were pretty soaked by the time we made the trailhead.

Erika was still about 1/2 hour+ behind us and Tara decided to ride back in and accompany Erika to the trail head. All of the horses/mules were tired and pretty much done in, Tara took the two that had a few ounces of energy left in them, Ganny and Stormy, and headed back down the trail.

As Ellen, Lacey and I sat in my truck with the heat going full blast we started really worrying about both Erika and Tara. We were just about to the point of going to where we could get phone reception and we saw the mule kids looking hard across the road and start to bray. We were VERY relieved to see them coming into the parking lot.

Loading everyone up, Ellen, Lacey and Erika headed for home while Tara and I headed back to the Mazama Ranch House to spend the evening with the horses/mules. It was definitely a great adventure with great friends!

Max waiting to be unsaddled at the end of the ride.


Michelle said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip, and Max is beautiful!

Kay Lodahl said...

Great pictures, Tammy. You put your blog together very well and I am so jealous of your trip. Mazama Ranch House is where Mike and I spent our honeymoon. The working ranch cabin. I love it there.

Eve said...

Wow what an adventure!!!

Michele Medlen said...

Oh my gosh!!! I know Tara from Bellingham! She inspired me to want to do this after she did it for the first time nearly 20 years ago!!! Needless to say, I have lost contact with her....until now!! I would love to hear from her at My girlfriend and I are planning on running this route in August! I love your photos and descriptions. It was very helpful to get an idea of the footing we will be encountering! Happy trails! Michele Medlen