Total Ascent: 4100ft
Highest Point: 5000ft
Total Distance: 13 miles
Location: N 47° 32.9880, W 121° 36.8460
Required Permit: Discover Pass
Occasionally, when planning our hikes, we bite off a little more than we can chew. That happened to us this week when we decided on a hike along what we understood to be the newly re-opened Forest Road 56, which provides the only vehicle access to most of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie valley. Heavy rains closed the road last year, and since that time we’ve been keeping an eye on progress of repair work, waiting for the opportunity to return. Unfortunately, although some of the repairs have been completed, a new gate has been installed around the five mile mark. This bars access to a number of great hikes that begin around where the Pratt River joins the Middle Fork Snoqualmie. Our plans dashed, we turned to the next available fallback - Bessemer Mountain.
There are two things to know about a hike up South Bessemer Mountain. First, it’s all logging roads, the majority of which are still active. Second, despite being entirely made up of roads that presumably some form of vehicle was able to navigate, it is not an easy hike. The combination of these two factors pushes a trip to the summit a bit beyond the category of a causal day hike. We recommend allowing a lot of extra time if you’re a hiker. Alternatively, this would be a great place for some true mountain biking, as there is a great deal to explore.
The gated logging road begins peaceably, with remnants of pavements peeking through recently applied patches of gravel. Encroaching forest has been kept well at bay along what is clearly an active road. The road eventually merges with the CCC Trail as it crosses Big Blowout Creek. A map may give the impression that you’ve arrived at an intersection, however, because the CCC Trail is unsigned and it is not entirely obvious that you’ve left one road for another. Simply continue to switchback through the young, healthy looking forest, to what we assume is the base of operations for the talus mining operations that currently going on. Scattered piles of boulders that seem destined for front yards and office parks surround a small trailer which must be the “office” the signage referrers to. Ignore all this and continue onward and upward.
Not too far beyond this point, you’ll reach the end of a switchback and hear the crashing of a waterfall. If time permits and you are feeling adventurous, we highly recommend you take a few minutes to explore. A quick glance into the brush reveals a pretty, but fairly placid portion of Big Blowout Creek. Only scrambling down into the creek bed reveals that the creek disappears a few dozen feet downstream. Carefully cross the shallow creek and follow the creek downstream to find a stunning waterfall. The creek drops about 50ft into a large pool nestled beneath high walls of rock. The setting is about as sylvan as it comes, so we encourage you to take a few minutes to pick your way down to the bottom and enjoy it. As far as we can tell, there’s no name for these falls, so in our hubris we’re christening them Talus Falls.
Tear yourself away from your private viewing of Talus Falls and get back on the logging road. The roads can get confusing, even with a map, as spurs set off in unexpected directions. The trick is to simply keep an eye out for intersections and always chose the route that will continue to convey you upward. You will soon push beyond the trees and enter the vast swath of forest still struggling to recover from the crew-cut it received back in the 1970’s. Stumps aside, the trim has the benefit of carving out some tantalizing views of Russian Butte and the Pratt River Valley that hint at what the summit will reveal.
After the falls, the roads become increasingly steep and difficult to navigate, the gravel growing ever larger and less compact. Aside from the occasional view, the route isn’t very exciting, and the rougher portions require a steady eye on the ground. Just beyond six miles, the trail levels off on a ridgeline that provides great views down the other side of the mountain as well as a vast panorama of the valleys below. Many chose to turn back here. We chose to bite off more than we could really chew.
The last mile gives no quarter: the road has all but disintegrated, becoming a steeply-graded collection of rocks and boulders. After struggling up the last portions, just beneath our goal, we saw something strange, and it took a moment to realize that what we were seeing was a bear cub standing in the road ahead. Momma was not far behind. Thankfully things sorted themselves out rather quickly, with the cub running back to mom before any misunderstandings took place, and we took an alternative route to the summit. The fact that bears are wandering around Bessemer hints at the typical amount of foot traffic on the slopes. We only encountered a couple of other hikers, so expect to have the mountain pretty much to yourself.
At 5028’ South Bessemer is almost a thousand feet higher than nearby Mt. Si, and this affords some unique views. You can clearly see the skyscrapers of Seattle and Bellevue to the west. Green Mountain sits at the end of the ridgeline to the south, with Rattlesnake, Cedar Butte, Mt. Washington and Mailbox all in attendance. The nearby Quartz Mountain is almost directly to the north. As you swing east, the dramatic walls of Mt. Garfield can be seen next to the diminutive Stegosaurus Butte. In the far distance, the snow-covered peaks of the Cascades stretch out in all directions. And, as always, Rainer lords over the procession. It’s a hard-earned reward; be sure to enjoy it.
To get there, take I-90 to exit 34 and take a left onto 468th Ave. Follow the road past the truck stop for about a half-mile until you reach SE Middle Fork Road, also known as Forest Road 56. The road has a few twists and turns, but continue on until the asphalt ends at Mailbox Peak Trailhead. Press on for about four miles to a blue-gated road labeled "905" on the left, 7.4 miles from I-90. -Nathan
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