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Colchuck, Cherries, and Chainsaws

Having wrapped up the dual battery install approximately 12 hours before departure time, we were off the next morning for a couple relaxed days of camping and hiking in one of our favorite areas of the Cascades, near Leavenworth, WA. Not only would this be the first trip with the redundant power - a good thing since we didn't plan on much driving, it would also be the first time we'd see the newly painted wheels in the great outdoors.

Well, those look great, I think.

We arrived at camp just after 1:30pm - on a Wednesday. This is key, since this camp site along Icicle Creek is a popular one, and we've been unable to snag it the last few times we've shown up on a Saturday. With it's own private beach, plenty of flat space, and both shade and sun, there's really no better spot to camp in the area.

The only problem with this site is that immediately next to the best spot to park, there is a dead tree. It's been there far longer than we've been visiting the site - likely for 20 years or more - and over the years, it's degraded noticeably from insect activity; to the point where we've recently been hesitant to park under it for safety reasons.

I mean, the likelihood that it would fall on us is probably low, but why take the chance? And so, the last several times we've gone camping, I've brought along the chainsaw. Unfortunately, on previous visits, there's always been some other bozo parked directly in it's fall path and we've been unable to get the site - opting instead for another awesome site nearby.

But today was different! I pulled out the saw and sighted the direction I wanted the tree to fall.

As is often the case, I'd underestimated the size of this project - literally. The diameter of the trunk was much larger than I'd remembered - and significantly longer than the 20" bar on my Stihl MS-261. As such, notching required work from both sides of the tree.

No logger, my adrenaline was pumping as I cut the notch. And as I progressed, I was extremely glad to be tackling this project - while there was still some solid wood, much of what I was cutting through simply crumbled away before the spinning chain!

And, the reason for that punkiness was blatantly obvious, mu cuts disrupting the superhighway tunnels they'd created for themselves.

Notch complete, it was time to start on the back cut. I knew this is where the rubber would hit the road and things would start to get (more) dangerous. I'd evaluated the tree-lean prior to getting started, and the few remaining branches were on the side that I was planning to fall the tree - but having done this only a few times in the past, I was still a bit jumpy as I started cutting out the back half of the tree. I took it slow, stepping back to evaluate the progress several times.

And then - as the saw inched towards he notch - the back of the cut started to open up. A good sign, and one that was my signal to evacuate the immediate area for the excitement.

And what excitement it was - as I looked over at @mrs.turbodb who was taking the photos, she too was mesmerized, and I had to remind her - "Take pictures!" - I'm sure I'd have been in a similar situation with the camera in hand.

Needless to say, I was quite happy with the situation - the tree had fallen exactly where I'd planned - and now it was a matter of evaluating the job and cleaning up the downfall. First - a look at the stump - which looked great to me, the small amount of uncut wood acting as a hinge; the length of the 20" bar visible along the back (left in the photo) side of the hinge where I'd been cutting when the tree started it's fall.

An hour later, clean up was complete and we were able to move the truck into position. Yep, right in line with the fall path of the tree - now a much safer place for us and future campers.

We spent the remainder of the afternoon and evening enjoying ourselves in one of our favorite places as blue skies and on-and-off sprinkles of rain passed overhead, eventually making the 45 minute drive back into town to enjoy dinner at one of our favorite restaurants.

Hahaha, this was a special kind of "camping."

There was a reasonably constant - albeit light - rain throughout the night. The pitter-patter on the rain fly, along with the sound of the creek, made for a splendid night of sleep and it wasn't until nearly 8:00am that we finally decided to get out of bed - the weather once again a mix of clouds and sun, and birds and deer out for their morning meal around us.

Our plan for the day was to hike Colchuck Lake - one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen, and a hike that we did for the first time nearly 7 years ago. At that time, I don't recall it being super-busy - and it definitely would not have been on a Thursday - but times have apparently changed and as we pulled into the parking lot at 10:00am, there were already 20+ cars parked there.

While not all necessarily on the trail today - this is the back entrance to The Enchantments, so people park here for multi-day backpacking trips - it was still more than we expected, but we were able to find the Toyota section of the lot and grab a spot.

The first mile and half of the trail climbs gradually into the woods along Mountaineer Creek, the glacial water rushing down the mountainside - eventually joining Icicle Creek and the Wenatchee River.

Eventually we reached the first of two bridges, and the indicator that the real climb - some 2300' of it - was about to begin. The forest began to thin on this section of trail, which coupled with the elevation gain, started to give us views of what lay ahead - the spectacular Dragontail Peak poking out above the treeline.

Now, a taste of elevation behind us, but the steepest part yet to come, the trail split - the easier to reach Stuart Lake continuing straight and Colchuck heading left over a second bridge below a large rock field.

We continued our climb - this section of the trail even steeper than the last - running into the local wildlife along the way. To say it was tame would be - perhaps - an understatement. Probably used to people like us pointing our lenses their direction - often with some little treat offered as a reward.

Up we went over root-rock ladders, the views of the valley below us getting better all the time.

And then, a little over 4 miles after we'd started, we crested the ridge holding back the lake to a view that's worth every minute of the climb. (And - if your knees don't kill you on the way down - descent! )

It was here that we plonked ourselves down on a rock overlooking the bright aquamarine water to enjoy the view of Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks, and the remnants of the Colchuck Glacier along the back side of the lake. Oh, and of course we enjoyed our lunch as well - a few light snowflakes falling on us under sunny skies!

After taking it in for nearly an hour, and entertained a couple of the tame animals in search of an easy meal, we eventually decided to explore a bit around the lake - something we hadn't done the previous time we'd visited. So we made our way around to the east to even more spectacular views.

Then - just as we were leaving - yelling and laughing spilled across the lake. Curious what what was going on - and suspecting that it might be someone just crazy enough to jump into the frigid waters - we headed to the lakeshore just in time to catch a 20' belly-flop in it's full glory!

The hike down from Colchuck - or any high-elevation destination - is never my favorite part of the excursion. Or rather, it's never my knees favorite part! Luckily this time, it was a good three miles or so before I really started to feel it, and that last mile was the flattest of the bunch, so we made it down without too many stops to stretch out our limbs.

From there it was back to camp next to the creek for a dinner of - having forgotten the hot italian sausages we were going to eat - fresh corn and Ramen, still a tasty treat enjoyed around our bundle-of-wood-at-a-time™ camp fire.

As with the evening before, light rain was on-again-off-again starting around 9:00pm, and we took that as our cue to climb into the tent and get some well deserved rest after an enjoyable day.

- - - - -

The next morning was a repeat of the last - the sun breaking through the clouds around 8:00am, doing what it could to warm up camp - water droplets clinging to the tent from the night before.

We got going only a bit more quickly than we had the previous morning, pulling out of camp for the last time around 9:45am. In fact, our next destination - while by far the shortest segment of the trip - was the impetuous for the entire trip. We were going cherry picking!

In what's become an annual tradition, we proceeded to pick some 70+ lbs of fresh bing cherries at The Stutzman Ranch. If you've never picked fresh fruit, it's really something to put on your list of things to do - there is nothing - no supermarket nor farmers market, with perhaps the exception of veggies grown in your own garden - that can compare to the taste of fruit that has ripened on the plant/tree and that you pick yourself - they are just so much better.

In the case of cherries, the only way I can really describe it is thusly - when you buy a bag of cherries in the store, some of them are meh, some are good, and a few are holy-smokes-that's-a-crunchy-sweet-delicious-explosion-of-juice-in-my-mouth. Now, imagine that you have 4 buckets of only the holy-smokes cherries. Seriously, that good.

Cherries in hand, we made our way home - the best arguably yet to come.



  1. Jim
    Jim July 12, 2019

    Crazy good! UJ

    • turbodb
      turbodb July 15, 2019

      Fun. For. Sure!

  2. tony
    tony August 7, 2020

    Any info on the location of that campsite? Looks awesome.

    • turbodb
      turbodb August 7, 2020

      Hey Tony, It's a nice spot, which is part of the reason that I don't share it's exact location. Hope you understand!

  3. john
    john October 3, 2023

    Not objecting, just curious about the rules on cutting down trees- I assume- in a national forest?

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 3, 2023

      Hey John, cutting trees in a NF is allowed, though there are a set of guidelines that are good to follow. In general, I also like to take a common-sense approach to these types of things. For instance:

      • when travelling on a road in spring, there are often trees that have fallen - or partially fallen - over the winter. It makes sense to clear these trees for safety and passage, even if they are still partially standing.
      • When camping in developed camp sites, hazard trees should be evaluated before camping. Sometimes the right thing to do is to setup camp out of harms way; other times, falling the tree is the better option. It is reasonable to take into account other users of the site in this case as well.
      • When fire restrictions allow, and you are in an area where firewood gathering is permitted, it sometimes makes sense to use a standing dead tree, rather than collecting firewood from the ground (which may be wet or not available).

      Naturally - and for the sake of the internet 😉 - in all of these cases, one's skillset must be considered as well. Falling a tree is an inherently dangerous operation and should only be done when one is confident in doing it safely.

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