Hiked: 8-23-17 and 8-27-18
Mileage: Miles, I don’t know.
El. Gain: Some
This is the story of a fire, before and after.
Last year in late summer, a devastating fire swept through the Norse Peak wilderness. It began on August 11th, and while on August 23, I saw no signs of it on my hike to Noble Knob, a hike in the same area to Echo Lake six days later was quite a different story, as by then the fire was cresting the ridge.
When I returned almost a year to the day, the scene was still one of beauty, but also devastation.
The journey to Noble Knob begins just outside of Greenwater, some of the drive on paved forest road, some of it on a decent gravel road with a few gut-twisting curves to a trailhead at the end of the road.
The trail traveled through solemn forests with minimal elevation alterations. After only two short miles, we found ourselves at the base of Noble Knob.
The trail wound around through some lovely scrub and meadows to an eminently rewarding summit.
We even saw some wildlife. Well, I saw it, and hid Aggie beside a rock so that I could enjoy the wildlife for once without her attempting to drag me off a cliff.
After munching some snacks on the summit, we decided to take the trip down to Lost Lake, which, as I descended rapidly, knew I would regret on the way back up.
Boy, did I regret it! Lost Lake was not the pristine alpine lake I hoped for, but a buggy swampy puddle bordered with mud.
Despite the awful detour to swamp lake, Noble Knob was one of my favorite hikes of 2017. I loved it so much that I decided to return this year.
I had heard there was some fire damage and that the trail had been closed for a while. Regardless, I did not anticipate the extent of the damage. As I neared the trailhead, I was aghast to see large swaths of trees burned black by the fire, spindly stands of charred lumber where only a year before stood lush forests.
This was by far the creepiest hike I’ve ever done. The silence was nearly complete. No birds. No bugs. Just the creak and pop of falling branches, occasional crashes as larger limbs tumbled to the ground.
It was an eerie walk, compounded by the absolute isolation of the trail. I reached out to a stump that I thought was merely steaming in the early morning air to discover it was still smoldering twelve months after the fire.
The landscape was completely scrubbed of life. No birds, no scurrying chipmunks, no vegetation. It was an immense relief to come out of the desolate forest into life again, as the brush and the living trees gradually returned.
At the top of Noble Knob, I was struck by the capriciousness of the fire, how great streaks swiped across the hillsides and mysteriously left portions of forests untouched while devastating others.
To make the experience even more nerve-wracking, I found fresh bear scat, and a pair of hikers I encountered told me they saw a cougar near the start of the road, miles away, but strange for a cougar to be out like that in the middle of the day.
It’s always a sobering thought to be reminded that what you love can kill you. Anything caught in the woods in those terrible hours of the wildfire were instantly immolated. It’s an important reminder to remember to respect the natural world, otherwise it will not respect you.
. Aggie’s Rating: out of 5 paws!