Thursday, June 13, 2019

Big Four

The Big Four trail was about to become my favorite wheelchair hike ...  and then I hit -- unexpectedly and almost consequentially -- the first step.

View from start of trail

The first part of the hike is still one of my favorites.  Not too far from Seattle, disabled parking spaces, wheelchair accessible toilets, picnic tables, amazing mountain views, interesting route over water and bog, colorful wildflowers, waterfalls...

View of Stillaguamish River from bridge

One could make a nice loop, going over boardwalk and paved path, since the two parking lots (the picnic area and the trailhead) are connected by a paved path that was once a train track (flat).  In the middle of the loop, the trail to the ice caves leads over a bridge, which is worth the side trip for the gorgeous view down and up the Stillaguamish River from the middle.  But you will probably want to turn around on the bridge and return to the loop (see why in the next paragraph).  It's a short loop, but you could add a picnic with a view to make it a fantastic outing.

Boardwalk at start of trail
Paved trail connecting parking lots

Packed gravel trail

One step at end of
trail repair
If you don't turn around on the bridge, continuing up the trail to the ice caves, you will eventually be rewarded with a spectacular view.  But the steps!  The path is generally hard packed gravel, but there are a few spots near the top where the gravel becomes looser and deeper.  Unfortunately, these seem to also be spots where the trail narrows and is home to rocks and roots, adding an extra degree of difficulty.  In addition, the trail becomes a series of meandering switchbacks up a steep hill, beyond my pushing (up) and braking (down) powers.  All of this is possible with serious assistance or muscles.  But then, we must add -- did I mention? -- the steps.  The good news is that there are not stairs; they are individual steps.  The bad news is that they are often quite high (I'd say up to 6") and often on the steep parts of the hill.  They generally appear on each end of short boardwalks built within the (amazing, really) trail.  I counted ten in all.  Innocuous to hikers, they would have been the end of my hike, except for my Freedom Chair (yay, GRIT!) and my hiking partner (yay, Ted!).

View near top

If you are lucky enough to make it to the end of the short but steep trail, you join the other day trippers at a viewpoint overlooking the rock face of the Big Four, with waterfalls gushing down (probably depending on the time of year) and a large snow field fronted by a snow caves and then a boulder field at the bottom.  If you are stupid enough to explore these caves, remember that at least one person died in recent years, when the shifting snow collapsed on her.  In other words, don't do it!  However, the view is worth staring at for a while, and the cool air feels great after the effort to get there.

Trail: Big Four
Length: 2 miles there & back
Altitude: 1700 to 1900 ft; steep hill
Surface: boardwalk, packed gravel, pavement
Trailhead: On the Mountain Loop Highway, about 25 miles after Granite Falls
     First sign is for parking lot for picnic area, second sign is for parking lot for trail
     The two connect via flat, paved trail
Views: Big Four Ice Caves, bog and forest