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TR: Thorp Mountain

Posted by gck Monday, July 15, 2013

Distance: ~8 miles
Elevation gain: 2300 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

With lots of sun forecast for the weekend, I was tempted to do another Teanaway summit hike (remember Bean Peak from last year?). But because I’m not in great shape right now, I opted for an easier, slightly more shaded option from my list so we could be pan fried instead of deep fried.

It would have been easy to drive right by the “trailhead” for this hike if other cars hadn’t been parked there already. You have to look closely for a small gated road off to the right where the road widens a little. However, if you miss it and drive all the way to the end of the road, there is a shorter, steeper fisherman’s trail that takes you to Thorp Lake. It’s not a bad option, as the first part of the trail isn’t incredibly interesting anyway.

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left: Thorp Creek
right: Mount Rainier

The first part of the trail is old undriveable forest road, with a crossing of Thorp Creek that is the most significant (but not problematic) crossing of the hike. The real trailhead forks from the road, with signage that could be easy to miss. I would like to point out that despite my track record, we did NOT get lost on this hike. There were many points where I could have made a mistake, but all of the decisions were right this time! For the most part, I followed the advice from another report I read: “When in doubt, go left.” The real trail is pretty flat for about a mile and overgrown in spots. I’m so traumatized by my experience in Northrup Canyon that I now associate “Eastern Washington” and “lots of green stuff” with rattlesnakes, but I don’t think this is one of those places, thank goodness.

Kachess Lake and wildflowers

It would be easy to dismiss the bottom part of the hike as boring. However, there were butterflies and flowers around us and sounds of birds chirping and the creek trickling. The trail was in great condition, not too rocky and not rooty at all, so it was a pleasant, almost magical walk down. All of the flowers in the world couldn’t mask the heat on the way up, and we found ourselves stopping at each shaded area for a drink of water. Also, a horse died by one of the creek crossings in 2011 (and they closed the trail for the rest of the year). One couple we passed had seen the bones, but we missed them.

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left: upland larkspur
right: trail with lots of wildflowers

After a bit of going upwards, we found ourselves at the junction to Thorp Lake. We decided to save this for the return trip, and I falsely assumed that we were close to the top. In fact, there was still quite a bit of climbing to do. Past the lake, there’s a junction for the Kachess Ridge trail that can be taken for a longer loop hike. We also hit a few minor snowfields. Nothing dangerous, but one guy in front of us got a little too relaxed and slipped and fell into a big puddle. A short distance pass the Kachess junction, there’s a viewpoint with views down to Thorp Lake. At this point, there’s also a small trail on the right that heads upwards, which is what the guidebook says to take. The puddle guy went up for awhile and decided that it was too minor of a trail to be the right one, so he continued on the main trail. We followed, which was the right decision. The side trail is probably shorter, but we saw some people coming up where it met with the main trail again, and they said it was really steep and hard to follow at times. The main trail isn’t easy by any means, but it’s well-maintained and gives gorgeous views of Mount Rainier, Kachess Lake, and tons of wildflowers – we saw lots of paintbrush, lupine, daisies, etc.

Thorp Mountain fire lookout

Of course, the views got better with every switchback we climbed (convenient excuse to stop for a photo break) so we were in decent spirits when we finally saw the lookout. There weren’t many cars at the trailhead when we started and finished, but it seemed like we met everyone at the top. It’s a reasonably large summit area, but good seating is limited. We did get a nice lunch spot when a couple conveniently vacated. The fire lookout wasn’t open, but you can stand on its balcony and take in the views. Mountains all around! One of the distinct ones is Mount Stuart… the naming of the rest is left as an exercise to the reader. You can see in greater detail in a Photosynth I created. Beautiful 360° views!

Thorp Lake

It was hard to pry ourselves from the views, but we eventually made our way down. There was a bit of confusion at the Kachess Ridge trail junction – “Thorp Lake” is the right way to go, but the actual turnoff for the lake comes at a later junction. The lake is a short detour off the trail, so short that it doesn’t make sense to skip it. There are a bunch of campsites near the lake, including a few group sites, one of them massive enough to hold a few boy scout troops. The sites on the other side of the lake looked really nice, and there were people swimming and floating in their own personal sections. For a holiday weekend, it did not seem too busy. It’s also reputed to be a decent fishing lake, and one person mentioned that they’d caught a small trout. The lake itself reminds me of Mason Lake – pretty in the right lighting, average-looking otherwise, warm enough for swimming.

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left: catpacking
right: Western blue flax

We were standing around and getting ready to leave when my brothers both said, “Cat.” “What?” I said, confused. They repeated, “Cat!” and pointed behind me. There was a backpacker… with a cat in his pack. Most awesome thing EVER. Of course, I had to get a picture and ask a few questions. The cat is leashed, but he doesn’t run off without it (which is amazing!). He was asking other campers about fish, so maybe the cat gets fresh fish for dinner. Not sure about the pooping situation, though! At that point, we knew we weren’t going to see anything more awesome that day, so it was time to head down and get to dinner. Great day, and this hike is highly recommended as a good early season option!

View from the top of Thorp Mountain (more detail)


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