Early July is the best time of the year to explore the remote, wild areas of Washington state. The snow has melted off the higher elevations, the days sunny and warm, the nights are cool but comfortable, the winter tree-falls have been cleared and the campfire burn ban has yet to take effect.
The area of Liberty, WA that lies east of WA Route 97 is a spiders web of forest roads and jeep trails. As always, the best reference for these PNW trails is NWJEEPN.com. If you jeep, wheel or overland around the PNW, this is THE site for old school, in-depth trail reports and recons. It even has maps and gps tracks. This whole area east of Route 97 is very accessible as the main forest roads are surprisingly smooth and fun to drive on; almost no washboard.
Our first camp on Friday evening was at a spot I’d found a few weeks earlier. It had a stunning view of Mt. Stuart and had plenty of space for a couple rigs. When we pulled in and shut down the engines, we heard in the near distance a flock of sheep, bleating in the dark. Plus more than a few dogs greeting our arrival. The bleating went on all night long.
Overnight, the skies were clear and the quarter moon didn’t rise for a few hours after sunset so it was dark enough for the Milky Way to be visible with the naked eye. With a camera, the details of our galaxy really pop.
The next morning a wizened older man wandered over to our camp, carrying a long wood walking stick and preceded by a pack of Australian Shepherds. His name was Enriques and he was from Peru. He told us about how he spent 3 months a year wandering around the Liberty area with his herd of sheep, changing locations every few days. He had been doing this job for ten years now, he said. He told us more about the mountain lions in the hills we were currently in as well as about the wolf pack that lived on the west side of 97. Keeping track of the stories, it seemed the mountain lions had taken more of his sheep than the wolves had. Enriques was, by far, the most interesting person I’ve ever met on the trails.
Afterwards, my buddy Dana and I hit up a jeep trail we had be interested in for a while now, Hole In The Rock – 4W339. This trail has some steep parts that are quite rocky and several areas that are heavily rutted from the early season jeepers hitting the trail in the spring when it was still muddy. In general, the trail should probably be only attempted by those with a rig built for high clearance. All in all, it was good fun.
Exploring the area more we headed towards Table Mountain, a wide expanse of mostly level volcanic rock that towers over the landscape to the west by at least a thousand feet. When you observe the geology of Table Mountain, especially the edge, you can see the physical differences between it’s sharp volcanic Igneous rock and the area to the west, which is more sedimentary and metamorphic. CWU Geology’s Nick Zentner has several dozen great videos on the radical variety of geologic processes that made the PNW over the past ten million years or so.
After exploring a few of the trails that lead off of Table Mountain, we headed over to Lion Rock. I’ve heard of this spot several times in other Overlanding posts and was interested in checking it out. It did not disappoint. We lucked out and found a camp pretty close to Lion Rock itself, at about 6200′ elevation. With a commanding view of The Enchantments, Mt. Stuart, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams – it was my sort of campground. The local trees have that characteristic wind-swept asymmetrical growth of a high elevation forest.
Mt. Rainier and Teanaway WA
After setting up camp, stoking up a decent sized fire and finishing off a few amazing camp burritos (thanks Dana), the the stars come out.
Grab the good times while you can…
“The Mountains are calling…and I must go”.
– John Muir