31 March 2016
Cedar Butte via John Wayne Pioneer Trail, Iron Horse State Park
4.9 miles, 900 ft. climb to 1880 ft. maximum elevation
Mother Nature got the memo! It’s been sunny and warm all week here in the Pacific Northwest, making today a great day for a summit hike with my Little Hiking Buddy. While it seemed like most folks were planning to bask under the glorious sun atop Rattlesnake Ledge, LHB and I headed just across the way to Cedar Butte for a quiet little hike. Located along the John Wayne Pioneer Trail within the confines of Iron Horse State Park, the Cedar Falls Trailhead is a few seconds’ drive from the Rattlesnake Lake parking lot.
LHB and I hiked this trail almost a year ago, when we first began our exploration of the nearby mountains. Back then, anything over a mile and above 100 ft. of elevation gain seemed overwhelming for us both. However, we two have since adapted mentally and physically to the challenge of hiking. Acknowledging our current capabilities, today’s adventure was more about welcoming the wonderful weather together than attempting to gain mileage or elevation.
Our journey began at the western terminus of the JWPT. As soon as we reached the old Cedar Falls Railroad marker, LHB was immediately reminded of her adventure here with Big Hiking Buddy in December. Unlike the spring flowers and leafy buds currently in bloom, the JWPT was a winter playground covered with just enough snow for us to enjoy. Today, we walked along the same road, now fully revealed by its gravel layer. Rather than throwing snowballs, we unsuccessfully searched for animal prints along the trail – alas, we finally found her long lost book of tracks after doing some much needed spring cleaning in her room. As a consolation prize for missing prints, we instead had a lovely view of the Ledges along with a fully engorged Boxley Creek.
We located a modest sign marking the entrance to Cedar Butte after walking a mile along the JWPT. The trail immediately took us up a steep section of roots and rocks under a thickening canopy of branches, which then leveled off for an extended bit. Within one-third of a mile from the Cedar Butte Trailhead, we found ourselves at a junction between a shorter, yet steeper route and a longer, more scenic path to the summit. Since I had enticed LHB with an offer of dessert first if we summited without taking a snack break, she opted for the more direct route to the top. Sure enough, we were looking out to a perfect view of Si, Teneriffe and Mailbox in no time at all, and of course, with our favorite peanut butter cups in hand.
An unexpected little patch under the protective cover of trees, Cedar Butte is the perfect spot for a relaxing picnic. LHB and I quite enjoyed having the entire summit to ourselves this morning. We peeked through our binoculars to discover little nooks and crannies that filled both the snow-capped mountains above as well as the luscious valley below. As we worked backward from dessert to our main course of cold noodles, LHB recalled details of our last trip to this summit. I was amazed how her budding mind so clearly captured the specifics of that day from almost a year ago: from the number, gender and age of the people we met up top to the weather and texture of the ground surrounding us. It was a pleasant reminder to me we were creating childhood memories to last her indefinitely.
We headed down the mountain via the longer trail, taking us past Saddle Junction and through Boxley Blowout. This path was much easier on both our knees and eyes, as it was a lovely walk through a beautiful forest dotted with moss coated trees, fungi and spring flowers. Streaks of sunlight highlighted the trail, making everything in the area come to life with color. LHB herself must have felt the energy, as she began unprompted to recite numbers in multiples of 10s, 5s and 2s, as well as recalling addition facts. My kinesthetic learner was happy to be back in her own little world again.
By the time LHB and I returned to the JWPT, we had crossed paths with a lone trail runner and a single group of hikers on their way up to Cedar Butte. Considering how close we were to the overwhelmingly popular Rattlesnake Ledge, our hike on this neighboring trail was unbelievably quiet and peaceful given such a gorgeous spring day. To cap it off for LHB, we encountered two beautiful horses also enjoying the wonderful weather as they rode through the JWPT. LHB finally found a few animal tracks to identify in her book.