by Ed W
Photos by John, Karen, and Ed
Hi Monday Hikers and friends,
We had seven hikers for the Heather Park hike via the Switchback Trail. This one way hike starts at about 4400 feet elevation along the Hurricane Ridge road, gets to nearly 5900 feet on Klahhane Ridge, and then down to the lower parking lot at around 1800 feet. The up and down trail gains a total of 2277 feet, but loses a total of 4826 feet over a distance of nearly eight miles, according to the information from my GPS loaded into Topo.
(See the trail elevation profile below.)
The climb up the Switchback Trail was beautiful, with fields of flowers in bloom. At Klahhane Ridge, we could see patches snow on the north side down in the bowl that we would traverse on the way to the notch that leads to Heather Park. As we descended into the north-facing bowl, barren of all but a few tiny plants, a fog of low clouds moved in around us, seemingly coming out of nowhere. After gaining the notch, we all descended once more onto the western exposure of the trail, and were greeted with miraculous rock formations and wild flowers of many types. One species in bloom was the White Mountain Heather in one large spread on either side of the trail (one that I had never seen in bloom before.)
We had lunch on a peak south of First Top, and within sight of Second Top. We had barely sat down to lunch when a very light misty rain started to fall. We ate quickly, packed up, and headed down through Heather Park, facing the nearly 4000 foot descent along with what we expected was increasing rain. The serious rain never materialized, however, and we were barely dampened on the way down. Along the higher elevations we saw alpine fir amidst small fields of wildflowers in bloom. This lasted for less than a mile where we descended into the thicker forest and endured the long downhill back to the parking lot. Once there, we drove the drop-off car up to the Switchback trailhead to retrieve the other cars and headed home.