I wanted to get away from the unceasing Seattle rain (at record levels this year!), so I drove east towards Yakima, where the skies are blue and the sun beats down relentlessly. I hiked Umtanum Ridge Crest, a 6-mile roundtrip hike with 2400 ft. of elevation gain.
Though I was only 2 hours away from the Puget Sound, the Umtanum Canyon region was like stepping into another world. The coniferous trees of the Sound were swapped for desert fauna, short grasses, sagebrush. Wildflowers were in bloom—blue and purple drops, yellow flowers in star and circle shapes— peppering the rolling hills. Overgrown shrubs encroached on the trail.
There was no forest cover. The packed dirt trail was exposed, winding through hills, always with a moderate incline. We trudged along the dusty path of loose rock, walking past waterfalls and rocky caves.
After some winding turns, we could see the end, the top of a mountain. The trail turned extremely steep. Any steeper and the trail would be a scramble. There were some incredibly fit freaks of nature doing a 50K race, and they ran up and down the ridge with great agility, undaunted by the ridiculous incline. We pushed along, legs burning, but spurred on by the sight of the end of the trail.
At the top, we soaked in the panoramic view. The way in which we came had a view superior to that of the other side of the mountain. Looking behind us, we could see a massive caldera, with a single yellow tree inside. The valley undulated below us.
We ran back down the mountain, as it was more efficient than walking down slowly. The wind died down. The bugs, which gave the hike the white noise of a constant buzzing hum, swarmed thicker as we descended, no longer deterred by strong winds. I kept swatting them away from my face.
As we trekked back, we passed the familiar curves of the trail, the caves, the waterfalls, past the live railroad tracks and the green suspension bridge.
On the way home, we passed by a store that advertised in big letters, “APPLES”, “ANTIQUES”, and interestingly, “ASPARAGUS.” We stopped by for groceries and ice cream.
The next few days, my legs ached. It hurt to walk, especially up staircases, even to stand up. I will remember this hike fondly. Washington’s diversity of ecosystems is astounding!