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Manastash Ridge | Roaming Around Rainier #1

Do you have a recommended place to buy Toyota parts? ...I need a rear taillight and quarterpanel. ...We were camping near Greenwater and even though we had an awesome Rainier view I hatched this plan to explore a new area that may reveal some riverside spots. Only hitch was that I knew FS-19 was closed due to construction, so I figure we can take the Naches Jeep Trail to bypass the closure. ...our ambitions definitely exceeded our skill. LOLJoe

When he texted me a few days before our departure, Joe had no idea that we already had upcoming trip planned to the Mt. Rainier area - a four-day jaunt, all built around the Naches Trail!

How could it be that we hadn’t explored this area? I have no idea, really. Most likely, it's simply a side effect of the total lack of exploration we've done in our home state of Washington - opting instead to explore areas in other surrounding states, where weather is consistently warmer, or at least drier.

But, what could be viewed as an oversight, we viewed as opportunity. With dirt roads less than three hours from home, we didn't have to rush out in the dark of early morning - instead, we got a leisurely start around 9:30am, and made it to Ellensburg for an early lunch before heading away from town and into the country. With several beautiful days in the forecast - and with the PNW being ideal when it's sunny and warm - the day was off to a great start!

Within mere minutes, we'd aired down for comfort and the landscape started to change dramatically. Gone were the wide-open plains and fields of hay; an evergreen forest, and volcanic foothills leading us on our way.

With a couple dozen miles of well-graded Forest Service road before we'd get to the Manastash Ridge trail, we'd made it three-quarters of the way when we stumbled upon a narrow trail heading uphill to our northeast - a small sign indicating that it was the Frost Mountain Trail. With seemingly plenty of time, we made our first detour of the trip - clearly, off to a good start!

Gaining elevation much more quickly than photos can convey, we climbed a thousand feet or so in less than a mile, the trail a little tight in spots - or so we felt at the time! Eventually we popped out to an easterly overlook, the Wild Horse Wind and Solar Facility near Ellensburg churning away in the distance.

Down across a saddle and up a narrow, steep, off-camber section of trail (that gave us a bit of an adrenaline rush) on the other side, we found ourselves at the top of Frost Mountain - along with several concrete footings, all that remain of a lookout built in 1954. An R-6 style, it had a flat roof on a 10 foot treated wood tower. But more importantly, it had a splendid - if a bit distant - view of Mt. Rainier.

The view north from atop a concrete piling.

Met its demise sometime before 1988.

A reasonable view west.

Our appetite whetted for views of Mt. Rainier - or what we locals call "The Mountain" - my downhill speed off of Frost Mountain was likely a little faster than it should have been - at least in the location where I kissed the skid plate dropping off a large root!

However, that same speed did get us back to - and then to the end of - the Forest Service road we'd been following previously, and before heading off down Manastash Ridge, we noted a fire burning in the distance. This was the reasonably small but still inconvenient to us - for reasons I will explain later - Jungle Creek fire. Luckily for us at this point, we'd be right on the closure boundary as we drove the first section of Manastash Ridge, and so able to proceed, for now...

From the viewpoint at the end of the graded road, the Manastash Ridge trail heads southeast and quite immediately becomes a very narrow Jeep trail.

Weaving our way through tight turns around trees that had quite clearly met their share of sliders, bumpers, and body panels, our pace slowed dramatically. Portions of the trail were rutted - tire spin from previous visitors flinging away dirt around the roots of  surrounding firs. With some of these root ledges and holes approaching 2 feet, and what dirt there was being loose and silty, we even ran into a spot where it was nice to engage the locker rather than exacerbating the problem by just powering through it.

And along the way, we'd pop out of the trees along the ridge, a view of The Mountain in the distance.

Our 4Lo pace continued for a couple hours. Initially it was fun, technical driving, but after a while we were both ready for more views and fewer tight squeezes. Mental breaks and variety were really what we were after - something I think we get spoiled with in places like Death Valley and other desert adventures, where there are more artifacts to investigate along a route.

Still, there were parts of this trail that were beautiful, and we never failed to enjoy them as they presented themselves. Tight turns into the sun, the trail falling away invisibly below the horizon of the hood line, volcanic ruble fields that spread out before us like mountain meadows where nothing could grow, and areas of old burns, where the silver trunks stood like soldiers guarding the road.

I can only imagine the work that goes into maintaining a road like this each spring. While we had our chainsaw for the few random trees we might find over the road, winter must really tear up a place like this - the moisture turning the road to muck, and the snow and wind causing numerous dead trees to fall over the road. Kudos to the 4x4 clubs - and other conscientious explorers - who make even slower progress, chainsaws at the ready, to keep the roads open.

It was just before 4:00pm when we had a decision to make: where we were going to camp for the night. Our path the next day would take us past Shoestring Lake and on to Tripod Flats, but I'd also marked a spot further down Manastash Ridge that appeared to tick a lot of boxes - on the ridge, a view of Mt. Rainier, and good positioning for sunset and sunrise.

And so, even though it was still early, we decided to continue along the ridge - after all, we weren't in any real rush and enjoying a view of The Mountain as the sun set seemed to be exactly the kind of thing we might council someone else to do if they were in the same situation! It was 4:15pm when we arrived.

It was windy! I guess not as windy as some other places we've been, but out there on the ridge it was breezier - and thus cooler - than would have been comfortable to sit in our camp chairs. And, while there was already a burn ban - and smoke from the Jungle Creek fire in the distance - with conditions like this, there's no way we'd have lit a fire anyway.

The truck however was nice and cozy. Probably unnecessary, I laid the solar panels out on the windshield - which was conveniently pointed directly at the sun - and they served double duty, keeping the batteries topped off and keeping the sun out of our eyes as we read our Kindles and @mrs.turbodb worked on her current knitting project.

For the next hour-and-a-half or so we enjoyed ourselves, and I may have even snuck in an old-guy nap for a few minutes. Having had a reasonably early lunch, we were both hungry at that point, and figured it's always easier to eat dinner - and clean up - when it's still light out, so while I dorked around - likely doing something of questionable value (stowing the solar panel or some such) - @mrs.turbodb whipped up a salad with grilled-at-home-chicken and grown-at-home sungold tomatoes.

We finished dinner just before the sun started its final drop out of the sky. I still hadn't deployed the tent, counting on the fact that the wind would die down a bit once the fiery ball was out of the sky - so @mrs.turbodb continued to hang out in the cab while I scurried around for various photos.

Over the next 32 minutes, we got quite the show. It started off with just a little bit of color along the horizon, the sun still in the clouds.

Then, the sun broke below the clouds, long orange light spilling out across the land. Still too high to really light the clouds though.

As it reached the horizon, a bit more color across the sky.

And then - as it fell below the horizon - the show really started. First orange.

Then, moving into the pink spectrum.

And in the distance, rain falling over Mt. Rainier.

And finally, the lower the sun got, the more purple the sky became.

Well, that was spectacular to say the least. It really is amazing what a few clouds and a bit of pollution can do for a sunset!

And, looking back on the day, it had been a great one. Not only had we left home less than 10 hours earlier, we'd gotten to dirt and had a day of exploring to boot - unheard of for nearly all our adventures, where the first day (at least) is spent pounding pavement to the destination.

And so, an hour or so after the sun left the sky, I had the tent deployed and oriented optimally for the little bit of breeze that remained, and we climbed into bed. I was tired from an afternoon of technical driving, and @mrs.turbodb was tired from the slow bumpy slog down the ridge. Soon, we were both asleep, with no idea that what we'd experienced this afternoon was only a small indicator of what was to come over the next several days.

It was - to be certain - a trip that would prove to be different - and in ways, more difficult - than the rest!


The Whole Story


  1. Steve
    Steve October 12, 2020

    Awesome pics. WA is undeniably beautiful!

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 13, 2020

      Thanks Steve! Glad you're enjoying. Hope you are doing well these days!

  2. jan suurholma
    jan suurholma October 12, 2020

    suck a lovelly scenery! <3

  3. Brenan D Greene
    Brenan D Greene October 13, 2020

    Wow! Holy smokes, that sunset, and these photos are absolutely amazing! Well done.

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 13, 2020

      Thanks Brenan! Was an amazing evening for sure - we were so lucky to be there!

  4. Jeannie
    Jeannie October 15, 2020

    Wow, I second, third and fourth the sunset comments! Incredible...

    Is that YOU on top of the old fire lookout?
    What?! How did you get up there?!

    • turbodb
      turbodb October 15, 2020

      LOL. Given that the only thing left of the lookout is a foundation, and that the lookout was demolished before 1988, umm, no, that's not me. 😉

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