Area: Middle Fork Snoqualmie

Length: 7.4

Elevation: 1050 +1530 -270

Condition: brushy, tricky detours

Solitude: total

Appeal: low

Features: pathology, history

Difficulty: easy except for distance

Administered: North Bend RD

Trailhead: Middle Fork TH

Connects to: Pratt River Connector trail
Pratt Lake trail
Bandera Area

Guides: none

Maps: Green Trails Mt Si;
USGS Lake Phillipa


 

Overview

You will find fewer trails more embroiled in history and politics, but given so little attention otherwise. Once a prime source of timber for hungry mills at North Bend, the Pratt River Valley was stripped bare of trees, from river's edge to thousands of feet above. Damage done, the area was set aside and forgotten, inaccessible without a dangerous crossing of the Middle Fork. Today, the new Pratt Connector trail has restored access, and inclusion in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area will promote preservation.

Anybody who believes the myth that "trees will just grow back" after massive clear-cutting needs to come out and take a look. Even after roughly a century of recovery, the trees in the blast zone today are spindly, knotted, and completely lacking commercial value. Remaining "big trees" rotted at the roots and fell over. Ground cover plants are mostly missing. Fungus communities to decompose fallen fir needles and regenerate soil are gone, so the forest floor is a thick mat of barely-decomposed pine litter, as soft as a Beauty Rest but twice as thick. Above the damage, the forest is healthy, with grasses, ferns, salal, and plenty of berry brush. A distinct line of separation is visible from across the valley, miles away, or as you cross over on foot.

The chances of another clearcut harvest in the metro area have been at a virtual zero for a vary long time. Preserving a clean watershed for urban rivers and a buffer between Wilderness and dense population areas are enough reasons for setting this area aside. Even so, it seems implausible that anything so seriously damaged would ever be considered for Wilderness status; that the status was granted is even more remarkable.

 


The Politics

In an attempt to curry favor and a federal appointment from the G. W. Bush administration, representative Dave Reichert departed from local businesses, civic leaders, land use planners, political organizations, and all other members of the Washington state congressional delegation to block passage of Big Sky Wilderness legislation.

Bad idea. No appointment.

Unfortunately, what goes around eventually comes around. Later, those same colleagues denied Reichert any support for his ideas about protecting the Pratt River watershed area. Lesson learned. He rejoined civil society and helped with the passage of the Big Sky Wilderness legislation in 2008; after that, he got the necessary support to include the Pratt River area in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness expansion of 2014.

 


 

Details

Start from the Middle Fork Trailhead lot, and walk the 3.4 miles of the Pratt River Connector trail to the end.

The highly manicured trail turns instantly to a brushy and barely visible foot path cutting back and uphill into the woods. At first, it follows an overgrown old vehicle grade; where this becomes infeasible, the trail veers uphill to the left, over a small knoll, rejoining the road grade on the other side.

At about 0.8 miles, find the clear but distinctly non-USFS trail sign to the "big tree" along the descending road grade to the right. Left exposed and alone for many decades, the big trees are now gone except for one with a broken top and bad core rot. Barely worth a look, 0.4 miles off the main track.

For the main trail, go left, uphill on what was once a side path. After a few short switchbacks, arrive at another road grade and continue on the original southeasterly course.

At 1.8 miles, careful! You need to leave the road grade on an uphill cut to the left. If you get to a point where you see the road dropping precipitously into a deep washout canyon, you have gone to far. Gain about 150 feet, climbing up to round the top of the washout, then drop 100 feet on rougher tread to rejoin the old grade. Take note of this location; you might want to leave yourself a marker pile of sticks and rocks, to help recognize it again on your return trip.

ancient road-trail

In a few places you will find a peculiar wavy surface — a common 19th-century road-building technique using logs for a road foundation. Imagine all the trees cut and laid to push this road through for miles!

At 2.5 miles, there is a picturesque mini-creek with a notch-like channel in a tiny, out-of-place bit of meadow; a great place to replenish your drinking water supply. One mini-hop and you are across.

The next 3.5 miles will be a challenge to your motivation and patience, even and unchanging along the wide, brushy, non-challenging road grade. An important landmark is the crossing of Kaleetan Creek at 6.1 miles; a little awkward, but hardly dangerous.

I suggest going all the way to the end at 7.4, where the road seems to vanish in stony chaos along the Pratt River, close to the confluence with Tuscohatchie Creek. You will know when you are there. Then backtrack and find a place in the soft duff to camp for the night.

by the Pratt River


If your intent is to make connections with Pratt Lake, you have some real route-finding challenges on your hands. Backtrack from trails end 0.3 miles to a slight rightward bend in the road. There is very little to help you here; you are at a point somewhat closer to the river than you have been since starting the backtrack. The river is distinctly audible. There is a relatively high shoulder that you must climb down to get off of the road grade, and there is a relatively large stump on that same side. There is no observable foot track. Setting a GPS waypoint at (N47 27.005, W121 31.100) might help. You will need find a place to ford the Pratt River nearby. On the other side, proceed downstream about 100 yards until the wash-rocks begin to firm up into regular forest, and then look for remains of a trail heading up-slope.