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Mountainfisherman
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PostSun Mar 07, 2021 4:16 pm 
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Thereís some dandies that you can see close up.  Also a few at the Wenas feed area-much farther from the road and a few small ones we saw today watching several hundred off the Selah-Ellensburg. Starting to melt off pretty good and getting another green up. Fairly deep crusty snow in spots-enough open to get around okay.
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Mountainfisherman
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PostMon Mar 22, 2021 3:46 am 
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Spent another day out in the Wenas west of the Selah/E-burg Rd dodging elk. While working up on a group I had spotted higher up the ridge I almost walked into a group that grazed up out of a gully. Dropped into a clump of bitterbrush and had 30 plus animals in and around me for half an hour before the wandered off.  Worked my way west up a canyon, managed not to spook another small group, could see another large group of elk on a spur off the main ridge further west.  Got to the top of the ridge where above a couple hundred or so more elk were grazing a/o lying about. Another group spooked for some reason, ran over a ridge and through a draw and joined the larger group.  Fun to watch. Managed to sidle my way off the ridge out of view of the elk and eventually back to the road.  Probably goes without saying but the warmth of the past week and snowmelt, grass is popping up, prime early spring conditions. Still some crusty snow, 6-12 inches in a few spots.  Good time to be out there, didnít see anyone else.
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dcA2dc
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PostMon Mar 29, 2021 10:10 am 
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Hello, I've been reading nwhikers for a couple years and meaning to de-lurk for a while, and figured this was as good a place as any - Mountainfisherman, I want to thank you for this post. I've been wanting to do more early season backpacking but am yet not a skilled enough snow hiker or camper to do so up in the alpine, so learning about this option was really helpful. Hope you don't mind me piggybacking on your thread with another mini trip report and a few pictures.

I had a great overnight trip in the Wenas this past weekend - went in on a clear, sunny Saturday and made it out yesterday before the weather got bad. I parked at the Umtanum Creek Falls trailhead, strolled down to the falls, and then hiked up on a mix of cross-country and old dirt tracks. Found a spot where the barbed wire was loose enough to duck under, and went up to the Rattler Benchmark high point for great views of the Stuart Range, Rainier, and the tip of Adams. Went down the other side towards the farms above Wenas Lake, up Black Canyon Trail, and camped back down in the trees on the north side of the ridge. There were streams from melting snow down in the larger gullies. Saw no elk, and no other wildlife other than a few small birds and chipmunks. Couple dirt bikes in the distance and one dayhiker. Got windy overnight but not very cold.

I hadn't realized that much of this area burned last fall - it seemed like many of the trees were dead (though maybe they'll come back?), and most of the ground was bare and ashy. There were already some green shoots coming up, so it should be interesting to see how everything regenerates over the next few months and years. The purply scrub in the photo below was one of the very few spots that seemed like it had intact ground cover - brown pine needles over ashy mud were much more frequent. Seemed like a lot of the fencing had burned away also, but I may have missed it.

Thanks again for sharing this info, and I'm excited to check out more WDFW areas!

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puzzlr
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PostMon Mar 29, 2021 8:51 pm 
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Interesting about the fire. I've been here many times and wondered why so much of the landscape is brush free. Maybe it's periodic fires. The gullies with more water are thick with it, though.

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Mid Fork Rocks ē flickr
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Mountainfisherman
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PostTue Mar 30, 2021 4:54 am 
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dcA2dc-what an adventure. Enjoyed the pictures. I havenít been to the top of the ridge or Black Canyon since the fire-I appreciate the restorative value of fire and itís cool seeing the grass already coming back out there; I lost a few spots with some memories. Glad you enjoyed the area-thereís a lot to explore and thereís not many people out there.
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dcA2dc
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PostTue Mar 30, 2021 8:45 am 
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Thanks! After doing a bit more googling, it looks like my romantic thoughts of the grass regenerating itself were a bit naive - there was apparently a massive re-seeding operation last December, involving both helicopter drops and foot crews, because the fire burned hot enough to destroy the seeds that had been in the ground, as well as most of the brush down in the gullies that I went through. Still nice to know that the land is being taken care of, and will be interesting to watch it re-grow.
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Mountainfisherman
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PostSat Apr 03, 2021 3:33 pm 
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Today's update-we went in on the Observatory Rd, reached the high point where the road drops into the Umptanum drainage, then went east on the ridge. Ran into a group of 40 elk or so that were feeding there way up the south side of the ridge, back off from them, then ran into another group on the north side, so we threaded the needle to speak between the groups to try to avoid spooking them.  From there we could see the 'flat' which is the area down the ridge from the Observatory where it flattens out somewhat, broken by some gullys, before it drops off into cliffs in the Umptanum drainage-which is running pretty good right now.  Across the flat, spreading out for a couple of miles, were at a conservative estimate, seven hundred elk.  So the trick is to get close enough to watch them, without running them to hell and gone.  We dropped off the ridge, avoiding the north side group that was now dropping into the drainage and crossing it on the Observatory side, crossing the creek, and taking an old road up a gully with intention of getting to a stand of trees that I knew of, but we ran into a couple of elk, so we backed out again, looped around a knob and reached a point in the sagebrush/bitterbrush where we could hunker down and watch them and did so for an hour or so as they grazed, laid down, and moved slowly up the flat towards the Observatory Ridge.  Further off there was a bachelor group of big bulls, all still packing antlers, then was lying down enjoying the warmth-probably a good mile of so off.  There was another fairly big group on the ridge above them and small groups of cows and last year's calves dotting the area.  Finally, we worked off the ridge and down into the creek, back up the ridge we came in on.  We saw a pygmy horned toad, took a picture of it, and walked back down to gate.

There was a reseeding effort, but they didn't get all of the burn area and much of regrowth is natural.  You can compare the private vs. the public land if you were to drive out on the Wenas side and you'd see the same growth  on both.  It has taken years for much of the area to recover from overgrazing by sheep and some of really never has with cheat grass establishing itself.  The fire, natural reseeding, and the man made reseeding effort is going to be a chance for more favorable grasses to get reestablished.  It's sad to lose some of those stands of trees south of the road, but it will be exciting to watch it come back.
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