INDEX — About a mile up the Heybrook Ridge trail, Jenny Li came bounding around a switchback. She paused when she saw us.
“When you get to the summit, don’t stop there,” she said, grinning. Her joy seemed palpable (probably the direct effects of spring sunshine on her skin). “Follow the power lines to the second tower, and there’s a second scenic viewpoint.”
Li and her husband, Bob Conrad, came from Edmonds to “take advantage of the weather.”
March 20 officially marked the first day of spring, and last Saturday’s nearly 70 degree temperatures and cloudless skies seemed designed to get people outside. With meadow wildflowers blooming, mountain waterfalls gushing and trail parking lots overflowing, it may be that time of year to trade in your snowshoes and skis for good ol’ hiking boots.
As you’re heading east on U.S. 2, there’s a curve in the road just past Gold Bar that reveals Mount Index in all its snow-capped glory. The highway winds down toward the Skykomish River valley, magnifying the mountain’s prominence and threatening to send gawking observers swerving in awe.
About 3 miles on, you’ll see the turn off for Index and our hiking destination.
At 3.3 miles round trip and 775 feet elevation gain, Heybrook Ridge offers a moderately challenging hike through moss-covered forest and past small waterfalls to a stunning vantage point of Mount Index and the surrounding peaks.
Vehicles filled the trailhead parking lot last Saturday. A parking pass or entry fee is not required. We tiptoed across river step stones and side-stepped sword ferns to embark on the trail.
The Rays, a family of four from Lynnwood, were on their way down the mountain when we ran into them. They entertained my questions as I panted, trying to catch my breath. Parents Nick and Aimee brought along their kids Lucie, 5, and Milo, 2.
“This is our fifth or sixth time hiking this trail — it’s spectacular,” Nick Ray said. “And it’s a county park so you don’t have to have a permit. It’s just a sweet spot. One time, a lady was at the top with an easel just painting the peaks.”
A final series of switchbacks revealed a sun-soaked patch of trees near the ridge’s summit. Then, with no warning, Mount Index rose up from the salmonberry vines.
And those peaks definitely deserve to be painted.
Families and couples dotted the ridge, a place in the sun to have a snack, crack open a drink and enjoy the view.
Several members from Evergreen Church’s men’s group tossed rocks from the cliff’s edge.
“We’re just so grateful to be here, together,” said Elijah Klein, 26. “We took the time out and are spending the weekend in Skykomish. The views, the landscape — it took my breath away.”
Following Li’s advice, we followed the power lines to a second vantage point that offered vistas of the Skykomish River. Munching on some Smokehouse almonds, we begged the sun to burn our noses and let us pretend summer had already arrived.
Back at the trail’s base we encountered a different breed of outdoor adventurists.
Josh White and Chloe Drace came from Seattle to free climb the Index Town Walls, an imposing collection of sheer granite crags rising 1,200 feet up above the city of Index.
“But with ropes — no free solo-ing,” Chloe said, reassuring me that she and White weren’t setting out to be the next Alex Honnold, a world-famous climber who doesn’t use safety gear.
The couple said they’ve tried to climb a few times this year, but snow and moisture kept them in the climbing gym for the past three months. On Saturday, they set out to climb five pitches, or about 500 feet, of the upper wall.
“It’s the first good day because its warm and it’s been dry for the past few days,” White said.
Before heading out:
Remember to leave no trace! If you pack it in, pack it out.
Always hike prepared. Bring ample water and snacks as well as a first-aid kit and knife.
Check the weather before heading out — best to not get caught in a storm.
Bring a buddy!
Check reviews: Washington Trails Association offers all infromation necessary to stay prepared for your hike.
Kayla J. Dunn: 425-339-3449; email@example.com; Twitter: @KaylaJ_Dunn.
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