Area: French Creek

Length: 5.5

Elevation: 2900 +2820 -50

Condition: neglected

Solitude: supreme

Appeal: medium high

Features: easy elevation, views,
lookout site

Difficulty: should be moderate, but...

Administered: USFS, Wenatchee River R.D.

Trailhead: Icicle Creek

Connects to:
    Icicle Creek
    French Ridge Backdoor

Guides: 100Alp

Maps:
   Green Trails Chiwaukum Mts
   Green Trails Mount Stuart
   USGS Jack Ridge
   USGS Cradle


 

map

Overview

You would think that any trail with a goal of making you climb 2800 feet would be pretty hard core. On the contrary, this trail was carefully designed to make the climb as painless as possible. It was a trail for "tote goat" scooters and horse pack trains, hauling supplies and water efficiently to the lookout on the top of the ridge. The grade is even, and firm. From time to time, you have spacious views across the French Creek valley to track your vertical progress.

But the Forest Service has wanted this trail to go away for decades now. Why? It would be so easy to preserve. It was built to last. It doesn't need to be manicured to typical WTA "horse standards" or even the usual Forest Service "wilderness trail" construction standards. All it needs is clearing or mitigating a fraction of the fallen logs. It is a real shame that we are losing this.

 

Details

To reach this trail, first go to the Icicle Creek trailhead, and hike the Icicle Creek trail northwest 1.6 miles to French Creek. Cross on the foot bridge, and then continue 0.4 more miles to the spacious and clearly marked start of the French Ridge Trail.

French Ridge view

You can sense how the trail was once a backcountry highway, with numerous even switchbacks. The higher you get, the drier you get, leaving the creek valley brush for hearty large trees, starting to become a rarity in these fire-challenged times. The trail tends to cut across south facing slopes, occasionally switching back to rejoin the rising ridge line. This pattern continues for roughly the first 2.5 miles. After following the ridge a while, the pattern shifts, with a few forays across the north-side slopes and leftward cuts back to the ridge. You start to feel close to the top here. As the trail swings past the right shoulder of a rocky formation on the ridge, do not fail to scramble up a few feet to take in the views of "The Cradle" and the upper French Creek valley.

French Ridge view

The trail goes crosses the ridge and returns to traversing south-side slopes. At 4.2 miles, reach one more long switchback. When you come out of this, there is a roughly level run while the ridge eases down to meet you. A side trail is visible at a sharp angle running to the right and along the ridge top about 0.2 miles to the old lookout site.

You have now invested nearly 7 trail miles and 2800 feet elevation gain. Clearly, you can take a late lunch, reverse your tracks, and return the way you came. But another option is to continue 0.8 more miles, descending gradually on the south-facing slopes in meadows, to join the French Ridge Backdoor Trail — a loop! This section of trail was once wide open meadows, with blazing greens and big views; now not so much now, as climate shifts have encouraged timber growth that interferes with most of the views.

 

So what exactly is the bad news?

There is no water available along this trail except for months of snow cover. Be sure to tank up amply.

By my unscientific tally, there were 66 downed trees worthy of notice across this trail. There were of course many more stepover "pencils" of little consequence that I did not count. The number of downed trees big enough to slow your pace and give you something to think about is around 16. Of these, two present difficult obstacles.

Remove those two major problems, clean up the sixteen or so of the other downed trees worthy of secondary attention, and this trail is saved for another decade or two. Yet, the Forest Service can't handle it: seemingly, it must be a hard choice between complete restoration or complete abandonment. Guess what's coming.