Once I was blind...
Well, maybe not blind. I saw but didn’t see. My lack of vision is more a matter of conditioning than a condition. It’s like the billboards on my way to work. No matter how colossal, clever, or colorful they are, their messages soon melt away into the mix of everyday exposure. I am not even aware of the moment when my eyes narrow, glaze over and ignore what is in plain sight.
During a camping trip to the
River this weekend, I was reminded that it’s not only clutter that gets erased. The vibrancy of rich personal experiences can also dim in the shadow of routine. My hiking outlook needed a new set of eyes. I found them twinkling in the grinning face of my 8-year old grandson, Taden. Our third companion would be Noble the wonder dog.
I picked the Rock Island Campground on the upper Icicle River as our getaway for two reasons. It sits high in the valley, which means cooler temperatures than the 100-degree readings in Wenatchee.
I also thoroughly enjoy the Icicle Gorge River Trail. It loops the river in a delightful meander conducive to young legs and frequent stops. This trip was not about power hiking; it was about a young boy and a black dog walking in the wonder of life that lives outdoors.
We were fortunate, on a late Friday afternoon, to secure a great campsite overlooking the rock of Rock Island. Here is where the Icicle splits, bends and dips, merrily sluicing froth as it goes. Camp was made in a whirr of efficiency and boots laced for an evening stroll of exploration. The temperatures were indeed cooler, but the mountain sky also darker and a bit threatening when we set out.
Across the river and into the woods we followed a network of trails. My normal inclination is to cover ground, Taden’s is to pause and ponder. If we were horses, he’d be jerking back on my reins and I’d be tapping his flanks with my heels. Truth is, I soon went from canter to walk. When I did, I begin to see what Taden saw.
Spider webs I normally walk through became objects to behold and detour around. Tiny caterpillars and large black ants called us to our knees for more detailed inspections. Bark beetle tunnels in decaying trees had to be probed and poked. Small hills must be run down. Logs stumbled across. When thunder spoke and rain splattered it was time to strike for Angel our camper.
The splatter gathered into showers that we sat and watched from Angel’s cozy cabin. The squall passed and we shifted equal measures of attention from the books in our hands to the steamy mist lifted from the river by sturdy beams of setting sun. Twilight found both of us bedded down for the night.
After a cool morning, a hot snack and some reading, we set out on the Icicle Gorge River Trail. This is a popular destination for day hikers of all ages. There’s many good reason why. It is a loop trail with access points from both Chatter Creek and Rock Island campgrounds. Midway between the two is another trailhead with ample parking. The Icicle Gorge View Trail also connects with the river route. It offers an extended option of two-plus miles with generous hillside views of the valley. Maps measure the river trail loop at four miles, but my GPS told me it was closer to five. The extra mileage no doubt a result of Taden and Nobel’s back and forth ways!
The 2800-foot elevation varies little. Variety comes from the land. The south bank of the trial, just across the Rock Island Bridge, opens up to timbered meadows and mountain vistas before dropping back down to skirt the river’s edge. Woodlands and water crossings came next. There was a swamp, a cedar grove and a short climb to a river lookout, all this before we recrossed the Icicle at the Chatter Creek Bridge. Taden counted 13 bridges along the entire loop.
On the north bank, a high path winds pleasantly through Lodgepole Pine thickets, dense foliage, creek and stream crossings, and river views. Thundering in the background is the constant music played by high water running hard and fast. The trail itself felt like a thick carpet with a deep pad. Even so, Taden’s pace slackened as the miles mounted. That said, he never complained and ended the loop with as wide a smile as the one he began the hike with.
Back at camp, we ate again and gave ourselves over to recap and celebrate our session in the sun together. We packed up and headed out by mid-day. As I navigated Angel down valley, I glanced back and saw curls of dog and boy wrapped in sleep. Up front, I was left to consider the goodness of this outing and to replay all the sights seen with fresh eyes.
For a short trek long on beauty, The Icicle Gorge River Trail is a perfect path for new and old hikers to discover common ground.