Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Hike: High Rock Lookout Trail, Towhead Gap, WA

Getting There:

Last time I was in the area, I'd stayed in Packwood, WA and took NF-52 to NF-84 up to Mile 8.5 and never found the lookout.

This time, since I was coming from Portland, I took I-5 to Hwy 12, then north on WA-7 from Morton to Elbe. Then went east on WA-706 which becomes Paradise Road E. 

This is the road goes through the Nisqually Entrance to Mt Rainier National Park and winds passed the Paradise Lodge and Reflection Lake.

From SR-706, I took the Skate Creek Road Turnoff which will take you to Packwood. It's 4.7 miles to the NF-84 turnoff. It's 6.8 miles to the NF-8440. It's 2.6 miles to the trailhead.

There is no signage at the last turn onto NF-8440 which is why I drove passed... twice! Today I drove passed cheerfully because I didn't do my research. I assumed that I just hadn't gone far enough passed the 8.5 mile mark. I waved as I drove by my previous turnaround spot. I saw a small road a ways up but continued. It just didn't feel right and I turned around at 10.5 miles and returned the small road (NF-8460).

NF-8460 was pretty narrow with overgrowth, and quite rutted. I panicked a little because there was no where to turn around. I backed down a couple hundred yards to a place I could do a 5-pt turn. (LOL, this is the length of the JK Unlimited biting me in the butt). I scraped some branches in the process on the driver's side. Matches the scrape I got on the passenger side on Red Bluff Road near Stevenson, WA.  :(.

Thanks to GPS I went back down the hill to the junction for NF-8440. I was a bit surprised at the number of cars in the little parking lot, for a Tuesday. Whatevs.

The Hike:

Length: 3.1 miles round trip
Elevation Gain: 1318 feet
Type: Out & Back
Duration: 2.5 hours  

There is a lot of elevation gain. It's not quite as taxing at the Silver Star hike a few weeks ago but still a good leg burner. I was off my game, preparation wise - not enough water, no neck gaiter, didn't stretch properly. 

Honestly, I envisioned the lookout to a be a short walk from the road, maybe like Sherrard Point at Larch Mountain. I had my pack which seems to be better than the day pack I'd been using.

It's a well maintained trail with only one or two trees across the path. The route follows a narrow ridge which allows a lot of light to come through the trees but it's still mostly shaded. You eventually reach a steep section on rock and offers some early views of Rainier and Adams.

The top of trail is a bit of a switchback; you overshoot the lookout, then zag underneath it. As you pass a scree field, you'll see the structure above. The trail ends in the trees about 200 ft below the lookout. Looks like a foundation of an old structure. The climb to the lookout is steep on solid rock. There doesn't seem to be any right way but beware of some serious drop offs. 

From the lookout, you get amazing views all around, including the Cascade Mountains: Rainier, Adams, St Helens, and Hood. 

It helps to have hiking poles for the descent.

Here are some of the photos from the ascent and at the top.