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Lake Isabelle Trail, Washington

Contributed By: Jerry Horn

Lake Isabelle Trail
Gold Bar, Washington
March 2, 2001
By Jerry Horn

Our daughter and son-in-law, Ann & Randy Dickson, came up from Oregon to spend a few days while the gals attended the Sewing Exposition at Puyallup, Washington. The girls stayed a couple of nights in Puyallup leaving Randy and me to fend for ourselves.

We successfully slept in front of the TV, checked out some used car lots, never missed a meal and did a few other manly things before venturing out into the uncertain misty northwest weather with the old Jeep Cherokee. My 1977 Cherokee looks like an old wood-sided, 4-door Jeep Wagoneer except mine is the stripped down version with no wood, no electric windows or other fancy do-dads. I have also modified it to sit high off the ground with big tires, low gears and a few other off-road options. Randy had not ridden in the Jeep since the most recent modifications so I headed for the hills to show it off to him.

My grandson, Zane, and I had taken the Cherokee on the Lake Isabelle 4x4 trail with Derek Boldrin and some of the other Backroad Drivers Northwest folks the weekend before so I knew the road was passable and the rig could handle the trail. We loaded the dog into the back seat and headed toward the Cascade Mountains on US Highway 2.

Just past Gold Bar we turned left off the highway onto the Reiter Road. The Reiter Road is a nice drive in itself as it climbs into the lower foothills paralleling Highway 2 and ending at the town of Index. It has a couple of miles of gravel, but is usually in good enough shape for most any vehicle.

Anyway, we took the Reiter road until we reached Reiter Pit, a large gravel pit that is highly visible on both sides of the road. That portion on the left side is set aside for off-road vehicles as a play area. You can see several motorcycle trails cutting through the brush as well as wider 4-wheel drive trails heading into the third-growth forest. Just past the pit is an unmarked gravel road to the left that leads to the Lake Isabelle Trail.

Lake Isabelle is a beautiful mountain lake with an easy hiking path for access. The 4x4 trail of the same name does not extend all the way to the lake. If you want to go to the lake you gotta' go a different way. The off-road trail was originally built as a mining road to access some diggings well below the lake. Since mining ceased many, many years ago the road has probably been used for logging activities, but that would have been a long time ago, too. Over the years the road has succumbed to erosion, landslides, earthquakes (like the 6.8 quake we had three days before) and most of all, off-road vehicle use. Most of the land is owned by the State of Washington and controlled by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) which allow it as an off-road use area.

From the Reiter Road we drove down the recently graveled access road to a huge opening where the Bonneville Power lines cut through the forest. Just past the power lines the roads separate. The Lake Isabelle Trail road continues straight ahead on what looks like an all dirt road and the gravel road turns off to the right and follows the power lines. We drove through several deep, pond-like mud puddles as we continued ahead.

The first obstacle was a stream crossing that can sometimes be a little tricky at high water. Even though the Cherokee is equipped with a winch and other retrieval equipment, I wanted to make sure our trip went smooth and dry so we checked the pathway across the river before we committed ourselves. We stopped, let the dog out to run and we walked down to the creek to check out the depth of the water and the line we would take to the other side. The water level was low and the route was visible all the way across so we decided to go for it.

We turned in the hubs, lowered the pressure of the 35" mud tires by 20 pounds for improved traction, rounded up the dog, shifted into 4-wheel low, gripped the wheel and headed down a steep embankment toward the stream. We drove over tree roots and football sized rocks and steered into the creek between a couple of big river rocks. We had to go about 25 yards upstream driving alongside the top edge of a three foot high ledge while steering between and over the edges of exposed boulders. Where the ledge met the main flow of the stream we crossed over and climbed up the bank on the other side.

This obstacle is not difficult as 4-wheel drive trails go, but water crossings are always exciting in my book. It should be noted that stock 4x4 's can suffer body damage if the driver picks the wrong line and there is always the possibility of becoming stuck in the wet rock and sand.

After the climb out of the creek the trail makes a couple of sharp turns between the trees and some frame flexing up-and-down whoop-d-doos before it straightens out into a level, narrow gravel road. Bushes and branches encroach on each side to form a paint-scratching tunnel of foliage. We drove through some deep washouts and a slight off-camber lean toward a steep ravine, both of which had been caused by Mother Nature taking back the un-maintained roadway. It sure was nice to have extra ground clearance for those holes.

We made a few more stops along the way to let the dog out.and us, too. This part of the trail was easy going, but the dog was obviously suffering from motion sickness, or whatever you call it in dogs. She was fighting every movement of the truck and getting thrown around pretty good. We couldn't do much about it other than give her as many opportunities to run as time would allow.

At about a mile in we reached the second obstacle. There were two rock stair steps in the middle of a fairly steep, rock littered hill. It was bad enough that the loose football sized rocks caused the Jeep to swing and sway with a sick dog in the back seat, but the test was to maintain traction as we chose one of several lines over the rocky steps.

We chose, by dumb luck (I had forgotten which way we had gone the week before), the correct line of attack and went right over the first ledge thanks to our ground clearance and the rear differential locker. The second ledge presented more of a problem. I chose the wrong line, lost traction and killed the engine. After trying it again and failing I decided to do it the easy way by turning on my front air locker which took us right over. On top of the rocky hill we stopped again to let the dog out.

In my previous two trips up this trail I had turned around at this point or before for various reasons. Since I did not know exactly what lay ahead we walked part way up the hill to check it out. Well, I pooped out and went back to the Jeep where I did my off-road community service by picking up two grocery bags of litter while Randy and the dog hiked further up the hill. Upon his return Randy reported that the trail ahead was fairly easy and there were a couple of spots to turn around if we needed them.

The trail continued to climb and the going was a lot easier than the rocky hill with the ledges. We did encounter some basketball sized rocks that we rocked and rolled over. We just slowed down and took them one or two at a time. I wish I had brought my altimeter because it seemed like we climbed a thousand feet in a fairly short distance.

From reading other reports about this trail I knew there was a log bridge whose crossing separates the men from the boys and that bridge was to be our destination on this trip. I knew I would not feel comfortable crossing it as a lone vehicle and still being an inexperienced off-road driver. Anyway, the bridge was just around the corner and we drove right to the edge of it for our last inbound stop.

We let the dog run while we checked out the bridge. It was nothing more than eight or nine bare, wet, slippery logs of various diameters laying next to each other, unattached, crossing the creek perpendicularly. Large rocks had been tucked between the logs to fill the gaps, but there were still open cracks and there was one broken log near the down hill side that gave us pause to wonder how it broke??? The creek under the bridge was cascading over squared granite rocks about fifteen feet below.

By now it was turning cold and starting to hail, but we took a little more time to clean up litter before we turned around and headed back down the hill. Other than slowing to a snails pace to maneuver through the rock stair steps and making occasional stops for the dog, our trip back to civilization was uneventful. We stopped at Reiter Pit to air up the tires with the on-board air compressor and headed back to town with the dog sleeping contently - at last.

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