Elkhorn Trail

June 18, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

I had no intentions of hiking up to the campsite which is used by climbers to tackle Elkhorn Mtn however I wanted to get some exercise and see how the trail was like. Besides, it was the first time hiking this trail although for the first 45 minutes it is accessed by hiking along the Elk River trail until I reached the wooden Elkhorn sign tacked to a tree near the river.

I drank my protein/ carb drink then took off my boots where a small shallow creek only 6 feet across presented little problems. I followed a worn out path which led to the main section of the river that appeared shallow enough but swifter flowing and it was also wider across. By the time I waded across, my feet felt frozen; the water was so cold. The only problem was there was nowhere to go; thick bush in front of me and a small creek entering Elk River between the bushes. I had read about a log crossing that some people use but didn't see any. I hung around for a while wondering what my next move should be. I swung around a dead tree and walked downstream a couple of yards and found a small piece of land to dry my feet off before putting on my boots. I headed into the bush which had prickly spines and came out on a small gravel bar but there was a large pool of water I had to cross then another creek before finally ending up on the other side. I figured I was too far downstream so I bushwhacked upstream in the thick and tangled bush. I searched around and finally came across a red flagging tape and worn out path. I had wasted a lot of time but I wasn't in a rush.

The path is rather obscure in a lot of places. It is really bushed in at the start and later on blends in with the forest because of the all the small debris of dead branches and leaves plus the many dead trees which have fallen over. Although there are red flagging tapes tied to some trees, many of those trees have fallen over with age and the red ribbons are either gone or still attached but at a different location; that is, further down slope. Typical of a lot of old forest, there are lots of fallen trees everywhere; some trees have been uprooted while other snapped in half.

Forest near the start of the hike

One other suggestion that I had read was to carry lots of water since the trail is dry however I discovered that is true up to a certain point. I only had ¾ liter of water in my bottle but the trail goes close enough by a creek that it's just a matter of collecting more water so I filled my water bag with 2 liters of unfiltered water and carried that with me. I thought that would be the last source of water which would be reachable but higher up the trail does pass by the same creek about 50 feet away.

One thing about this area is that the forest is quite open with fairly thick vegetation at the start then it thins out considerably with rather thin trees growing. Some old growth forest starts to appear higher up the mountain and so does more vegetation but the area remains quite open.

Typical big boulder in the forest

Taking a rest break on a level section of the trail

The trail is very steep in most places which reminded me of the King's Peak trail however there are no switchbacks to ease the grade. My calves got a good workout. There are sections of the trail which travels high up above the steep slope which drops down to the creek. It's difficult to follow the path when dead trees lay across it. What's more difficult is climbing over the trees heading uphill; that requires a longer reach to step over. When the path came close enough to the creek, I wandered off the path and found a place beside a pool of water to eat lunch.

I cooled down to the point of having to put my jacket back on; not a warm day despite the sun shining. I saw some clouds build up over the mountain ridge and it was just a matter of time before it blocked out the sun. After lunch, I headed up the path which got steeper and the creek had turned into a waterfall which tumbled down a steep rock face from the top of the mountain ridge. One section of the path traverses along a narrow section of exposed tree roots which can be used as hand holds. The tree grows on top of a rock bluff with a tangle of exposed roots and there is a precipitous drop on one side. Once on top, I saw where the path goes up some steep rock. I decided to stop here and head back down.

Scrambling up using tree roots as anchors

This is the path believe it or not

I always find heading up a trail easier than going down not only because it is easier on the knees but also because the force of gravity is against me. Heading down a steep loose dirt surface with small pebbles makes it easier to slide and it fatigues the leg muscle trying to control the descent. I also had to stop now and then to see where the path goes and try to spot any red ribbons.

A small waterfall in a debris filled creek

I took a rest break at the creek and felt a few sprinkles but that was about the limit of any showers. When I had reached Elk River, I searched around for the log crossing and found it. The log was fairly dry and wasn't slippery so I walked across without problem. The water looked pretty deep. Once across, I walked the gravel bar before coming across another tributary of the river and another log crossing which I easily took care of but another braided section of the river required wading. I climbed a small bank then dried my feet under a large tree. I had to bushwhack to reach the main trail then it was just a matter of hiking the Elk River trail back to the parking lot. I had thought about buying a light pair of water shoes for water crossings which should protect the feet from the cold water and provide traction but I decided to tough it out.



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