Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Manastash Ridge

Sick of gloomy gray skies, I and older son headed over the Pass to the wide open spaces and maybe a little sunshine.  We chose the Westberg Trail, number 9 in the Best Desert Hikes book (Bauer & Nelson), for its nearness and the promise of great views, flowers, and birds.  Geoff, the newly minted driver, got great practice driving freeway for a long distance while I kicked back and enjoyed the scenery.  Obligatory stop in Cle Elum at Pioneer Coffee for a wakeup and Safeway for their signature sandwiches for later lunch on the trail.

The Westberg Trail (aka Ridge Trail) wastes no time in heading directly up 1800 feet to the crest of Monastash Ridge, mostly in open country with generous views over the Kittitas Valley to the cloud-shrouded Stuart Range.  Only the earliest of spring flowers were out; grass widows, gold fields, yellow bells, sagebrush buttercups, and sagebrush violets.  Thankfully no ticks and somewhat disappointingly no rattlesnakes for I love the heightened sense of one’s surroundings that the specter of encountering a rattlesnake brings.

At the top of the ridge, the trail ends at the Westberg Memorial.  The wind was gusting to 22 mph giving a wind chill factor of 33 degrees according to a fancy new toy I bought off Amazon, a Kestrel 2500 pocket weather meter.  We considered following the dirt road that snakes along the ridge to the UW Observatory but first we had to find a sheltered place out of the wind for lunch.  I spied a lone Ponderosa to the lee south out on a side ridge about a quarter mile away.  It was a young tree with branches almost touching the ground offering the promise of a sheltered area out of the wind and so it was.  We enjoyed our lunch there under the tree with the wind rustling the branches overhead and a floor cushioned by pine needles and a few token owl pellets.

From our lunch vantage, we spied a stock pond a little further south down a draw between us and the opposite side ridge.  The power of the pond compelled us and so we packed up and headed to the pond across the open country that offered little resistance to foot travel.  The pond in and of itself wasn’t too exciting except for the large thatch mound of a wood ant colony (Formica rufa) on top of the earthen dam that forms the pond.

Leaving the pond, we followed the trace of a four-wheel drive road back to the main ridge and connecting again with the trail.  Just below the ridge crest, the trail forks near an old broken Ponderosa pine marking the junction to an alternative trail to the bottom.  This trail enters a wooded area of Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir at the head of a side canyon.  Here we flushed a grouse.   The trail follows the canyon all the way down to the irrigation ditch service road and then back to the trailhead.  Near the bottom of the canyon we found a deer skull among the new spring grass, a testimony to the callousness of winter and the promise of spring.