Hillockburn trail and road 45 - Post fire
Last Saturday, I decided to see how the Hillockburn trail fared in the fires. I knew road 45 was still closed, so I would need to do some road walking. I found some interesting things in my journey.
The first surprise was that I expected to be stopped at the old "yellow gate" at the entrance to the NF. I was surprised to see that gate open. I did get stopped at a NEW gate - a green gate:
This was shortly before the shooting areas on 45 - so I didn't have too far to walk to the trailhead:
As you can see, it burned pretty good in here with pretty much 100% kill ratio. Almost no trees survived. The beginning of the trail was not too bad, with just some overgrown brush. The trail had been cut out post fire, as there was quite a few new cut logs.
As I got closer to the river, where the trail gets steeper, things deteriorated quite a bit. There was a huge uproot at a switchback which was difficult to navigate:
As I got closer to the river, it was harder and harder to try and follow the trail - down by the river it was an absolute mess:
I can only imagine how bad this would have been before the frosts killed a bunch of brush. The river looks a bit different now (as you would expect):
After getting down to the river, I headed back up. Since I didn't have to walk as far as I thought I would, it was still early, so I decided to head up road 45 to see what I could see. Interestingly enough, I didn't see any evidence of any trees falling across 45 in the area I walked, but there was certainly evidence of vehicles driving up 45 recently. There was basically no snow at the Hillockburn trailhead, but I soon ran into some snow which got deeper as I headed up 45. I got excited when I started seeing evidence of roadside cutting - I thought the FS had started the "hazard tree remediation":
When I got back home I realized this was not FS land, but BLM land. So BLM has started cutting, but the FS has not. This portion of 45 kind of goes back and forth between BLM and FS land for a while before becoming all FS land. I did not get far enough up to see how far the cutting was done, but I kind of think the BLM land is all cut out at this point. I saw cutting as far ahead as I could see.
The new cutting opens up a bunch of new views as well. One thing I had wanted to do (and forgot) was to see if I could see Memaloose Falls from 45. I've been told it is now visible from the 45 road due to all the tree loss (kind of like you can now see Pup Creek falls from 224).
It was an interesting day out - I'm curious when the FS is going to start cutting on road 45 - I hope it begins soon - there is a lot of road to cut.
Thanks for the update! I was up there for the first day of the year. The "Green Gate" you reference was unlocked and open. As I was driving in I asked a traveler headed out how far the road was open. He said that he had been up as far as the Goat Mountain road, and 45 was open past there. I parked at the trailhead, and heard a few vehicles going in as I went down the trail. Folks been going up into the area. I could hear shooting from up the valley but not from across.
Yeah, the first part of the trail was fine. The bottom 500 feet of the switchback section was pretty hellish. Maybe better off taking a bushwhack route for that section... LOL
As I have been going into more and more of the burnt areas, I am surprised by new vistas and the ability to see into areas that had been previously hidden by the trees and undergrowth.
Last fall I went a little ways up the Fish Creek Basin a few times. I chose to go up to 5420 then drop down to 54 due to the Rimrock creek at 54 washout. I have crossed the creek there, and it's easier just to go up and around. Smooth and easy trail up to First Creek. Only a few trees to cross over or under.
In December I walked up the hill to 5410 where the airfield cutoff is and was able to see way up the valley. I think there are a few patches of unburnt trees up around Third Creek. This is a spring mission for me... I want to see the old bridge that is still visible in the satellite images. (Fish Creek Falls too...)
I also discovered I was not alone up there. Along with the usual deer prints I found what I suspect are prints from Bobcat, Coyote, and Cougar. Lotta traffic... Bobcat and Coyote, no worries. Big Kitty, different story. I need to remember that I am in their home.
Thanks for responding - some days I feel like I'm talking to myself on here... 🤣
Interesting that 45 was open. The gate on 4620 was open for several weekends a while back but is now closed again (or it was last time I was up there). I always get nervous about those gates - I will be happy when they get that cutting done and get these roads back open again, but it sounds like that is still a ways off.
Its funny you mention Fish Creek. I went up there on the first, making it to the first bridge. And someone has been in there cutting out logs - there is more to be cut, but they did some very hard work - whoever it was, I'm thankful for the work they did. I also want to get back in there - I'd love to see the "apocalypse bridge" again - the bridge that was lifted up and is laying on its side down Wash Creek - that is quite an amazing sight and a testament to the power of mother nature.
I also REALLY want to get back up to Fish Creek Mountain. The latest aerial images from google have what looks like the old foundation to the lookout up there - I'm not sure what else it would be, but I'd really like to see it for myself:
I also echo your sentiment about the fires opening up new views that were not possible before. Even hiking up Fish Creek - there are things that you just couldn't see before that are now visible.
One thing I meant to look for when I was up 45 was the view to Memaloose falls - supposedly you can now see the falls from the road.