Forum Index > Trip Reports > Ross Dam Exploration - WA Hwy 20 N. Cascades - 04/19/08
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
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Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 1:07 am 
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On the heels of my March outing to explore Diablo Lake in which we were deterred by mountain lions, avalanches and downed power lines, today we opted to explore the Ross Dam area.

Today left me almost speechless.  It was glorious!  Wow.  Superb!
up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif  up.gif

With the forecasted 'unseasonally cold' weather and the latest snow flurries in Western Washington, 8buck and I departed Mount Vernon about 9:00am in substantial snow showers with the intention of exploring Thunder Creek and, if time allowed, Ross Dam.
Hwy 20 scenery
Hwy 20 scenery

Stopped for a quick photo opp break off Hwy 20 and then a quick break at the N. Cascade Visitor center in Newhalem.  Rangers at the visitor center indicated the trail to Ross dam should have minimal snow and expected limited parking capability at Colonial Creek Campground.  We decided to head out to the Hwy 20 closure gate at the Ross Dam trailhead and assess the situation before committing to one or the other.

After arriving to an empty lot at the Ross Dam trailhead we decided to hit the trail immediately and descended the 1 mile trail down to the Ross Dam service road.  Yak Trax were used for a bit, but not really needed.  Snowshoes weren't needed (but would have been at Thunder Creek).
Trailhead, closed Hwy and mountains with spring snow
Trailhead, closed Hwy and mountains with spring snow
Trail Bridge
Trail Bridge
First view of dam and lake
First view of dam and lake

We were amazed at how low Ross Lake was.  This is normal, but the steep and rocky reservoir walls were much steeper and deeper than I ever would have guessed.  By our estimates, the lake level is about 80 feet below it's normal summer status.

Since this is a 'reverse' hike we opted to continue all the way down to the Powerhouse at the Lake Diablo level (our minimum elevation point) and work our way back up later in the day.  The route simply follows the service road as it switchbacks down the mountain side.  At the bottom is the powerhouse and also a suspension bridge marking one end of the Diablo Lake Trail.
Tunnel looking toward powerhouse
Tunnel looking toward powerhouse
Service Road Tunnel with missing cement work
Service Road Tunnel with missing cement work
Ross Powerhouse
Ross Powerhouse
Boathouse and Ross Dam
Boathouse and Ross Dam
Dodge Power Wagon
Dodge Power Wagon
Powerhouse
Powerhouse

After poking around a bit, we crossed the suspension bridge, followed a side trail and scrambled down to a rocky beach at the base of a creek spilling into Diablo Lake.  Noted a huge log with the bark pulled off (bear for sure!) but also lots of neat rocks and water combinations, plus a view of the glacial-till-tinted Diablo Lake and Ross Dam.
Suspension Bridge over Diablo
Suspension Bridge over Diablo
Ross dam from Diablo Creek Beach
Ross dam from Diablo Creek Beach
Diablo Lk, Suspension Bridge, Tunnel and John Pierce Bridge on Hwy 20
Diablo Lk, Suspension Bridge, Tunnel and John Pierce Bridge on Hwy 20
Headwaters of Diablo Lake
Headwaters of Diablo Lake
Groovy Rocks and Creek
Groovy Rocks and Creek

Along the way to the creek beach we passed a strange cement building which contained a single empty room.  We wondered what this was used for.  We also noted an old ladder across the trail from the cement structure and wondered if maybe it used to be attached.  Things that make you say Hmmmm....
Lost Ladder (presumably went to top of Box)
Lost Ladder (presumably went to top of Box)
The Box
The Box

From there we headed down the lake a short ways following what was likely a road during the dam construction, observing a stone retaining wall and some old steps, plus a lot of old scrap metal laying around, partly obscured by downed trees and years of forest debris.
Woodland Stairs
Woodland Stairs

We noticed a large area of massive-sized downed trees up ahead and went to investigate.  Upon our arrival we realized this was the snout, or the terminus of a massive avalanche.  MASSIVE!  Neither words nor pictures can accurately describe the destructive force that was at work.  We scrambled up on top of the avalanche debris and realized how well packed the snow was.  No chance of postholing in this stuff... truly Cascade Concrete.  I'm still in amazement at the strength of this thing and how hard it would be to dig someone out of that mess - dang near impossible with all that debris and the strong snowpack.   eek.gif
Avalanche Snout Destruction
Avalanche Snout Destruction
Lofty Rootball at snout of Avalanche
Lofty Rootball at snout of Avalanche
Climbing the Avalanche Snout
Climbing the Avalanche Snout
Up the Avalanche Path
Up the Avalanche Path
Avalanche Route
Avalanche Route

We then headed back up the service road to visit the top of Ross dam.  Along the way we found some neat waterworks and icicles.
Iced Branch
Iced Branch
Creek Icicles
Creek Icicles

Along the spur road to the Ross Lake Ferry loading dock we crossed a bridge over a creek coming out of a tunnel.  It's our assumption that this isn't a natural tunnel and was created for some reason when the dam was built.  As I moved toward the tunnel/cave opening with hopes of capturing a flash picture of the interior, a fist sized rock fell off the huge incline above and splashed into the creek just feet away.   eek.gif  Quickly I decided the photo wasn't worth the risk.  As we looked up, it was evident there were many individual rocks perched along the incline just waiting for the right breeze or any other opportunity to come rolling on down.  Counted my blessings for sure.
Creek emerging from tunnel - Watch for falling rock!!!!
Creek emerging from tunnel - Watch for falling rock!!!!
Bridge over underwater creek
Bridge over underwater creek

Walked across Ross Dam and enjoyed the scenery immensely.  It was quite unusual to see the lake SO low.  On all my previous visits to Ross dam, the lake has always been at or near it's usual high mark.  Being able to see how deep the reservoir is and to see all the dam components that are usually hidden was very interesting.
Ross Dam and Blue Sky
Ross Dam and Blue Sky
Ross Dam
Ross Dam
Ross Pattern
Ross Pattern
Diablo Headwaters
Diablo Headwaters
Pyramid Peak
Pyramid Peak
Ross Lk Resort in April
Ross Lk Resort in April
Ross Dam
Ross Dam
Ross Lake, Resort and Mtns
Ross Lake, Resort and Mtns
Waterfall doubles in size with low lake level
Waterfall doubles in size with low lake level
Low water level in Ross lake
Low water level in Ross lake

8buck noticed a cave on the far side of the dam, up quite high with some kind or protrudence of some kind.  We also noticed some small cone-shaped pieces anchored into the cliff walls.  More things to make you say Hmmm....
Distant Cave above Ross Dam
1 label
Distant Cave above Ross Dam
Zoom to Cave - what is that thing?
Zoom to Cave - what is that thing?
What is this thing?
What is this thing?

At one point we hoped to hike over to the Ross Lake Resort and Green Point Campground on Ross Lake, but that will have to wait for another time.

We returned up the trail toward Hwy 20 and just minutes before we reached the parking lot, two other hikers (from Canada) were descending the trail toward the service road.  Other than that (and one dam worker we saw) it was a quiet day on the trail.

Weather was spectacular.  We had dressed for the cold and wet, but spent the day dry and warm.  My thermometer registered between 45 and 50 degrees all afternoon.

>>EDIT:  Added missing TH picture at top.
Elevation change between Diablo Lk and Hwy 20 is about 900 feet.
Mileage was about 5 miles in total, but simply going from Hwy 20 down to Ross Lake is about 1 mile each way.  >>
Thanks, 8buck, for braving the forecast and joining me for the day.

--------------
"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks



Joined: 13 Feb 2007
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puzzlr
Mid Fork Rocks
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 1:21 am 
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Thanks for all the great pictures. I especially enjoyed the part of the story where you found the avalanche after effects. Interesting that the avalanche went through the big trees higher up on the mountain, but cleared out everything lower down.
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Hiker Mama
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Hiker Mama
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PostSun Apr 20, 2008 6:24 am 
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What an interesting TR!  I don't have any answers for what all those neat things were, but I did enjoy your account of the day and your pictures.  Thanks!
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seawallrunner
dilettante



Joined: 27 Apr 2005
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seawallrunner
dilettante
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 9:01 am 
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ooo Elvis. What a great trip report.

Ross Lake Water Levels The water was 110 feet below the July-September high point. 15 more feet, and the reservoir will has reached its minimum level.

Interesting, the little chimney and the cave in the rockface. I think the chimney has something to do with exhaust from the equipment near or inside the dam. as for the cave? a mystery!

Which side of the dam were you on, when you found that little trail with the ladder? Were you on the Diablo trail by that point? or still below the highway?
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
Posts: 1801 | TRs
Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 1:46 pm 
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Cool Water level info, seawallrunner.

The Ladder and concrete structure were on the Diablo Lk Trail, directly across from the Ross powerhouse.

The little chimney picture is missing anything to show its scale.  The entire structure isn't more than 6 inches tall. For the Canadians... about 16 centimeters or less.   tongue.gif   Our only guess is that it might have something to do with monitoring the movement (or hopefully lack thereof) of the dam.

~E

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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Sore Feet
Random Quippy Bit



Joined: 16 Dec 2001
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Sore Feet
Random Quippy Bit
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 4:38 pm 
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Elvis wrote:
Along the spur road to the Ross Lake Ferry loading dock we crossed a bridge over a creek coming out of a tunnel.  It's our assumption that this isn't a natural tunnel and was created for some reason when the dam was built.

The tunnel was created to divert Happy Creek into Ross Lake so it would contribute to the hydro-generating abilities rather than dumping into the canyon just below the dam as it naturally would have done.  The tunnel was designed by a guy named Herb Strandberg and the waterfall that was created where the creek falls into the lake was subsequently named after him by Seattle City Light folk (at the time at least, the name has long since fallen out of use as best I can tell).  When I went down to photograph the falls last year, I went and found the entrance to the tunnel too - its pretty cool seeing a full size stream just drop into a pit in the ground and disappear.

If you cross Ross Dam you can also see where Happy Creek used to flow into the Skagit just below the dam.  Strandberg Falls is nice, but there used to be a 400 foot waterfall where it fell into the canyon, so its kind of a glass half full / empty situation.

--------------
Bryan Swan
Pictures - http://www.flickr.com/photos/bryanswan
Waterfalls - www.waterfallsnorthwest.com
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Quark
Niece of Alvy Moore



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Quark
Niece of Alvy Moore
PostSun Apr 20, 2008 5:19 pm 
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Interesting trip report.   up.gif

I find it odd (but wonderful) that folks are allowed so close to the dam by hidden access points.   The others have a big visitors' centers that are heavily monitored (since 2001).  Hell, at Grand Coulee, nowadays, if you pull out your zoom lense, 25 officials are swarming around you.  This is a slight exaggeration but not by much.  OK, so that's an exaggeration too, but there are always a few city & state patrol cars in the parking lot there, and the place is heavily patroled.  (I got questioned when I took a photo of a sunset over the lake several blocks away from the dam).

Love the old stair steps.  I would have gone into orbit to see those. up.gif

Next time you're up there, do me a favor and toss that vertical log that's mucking up John Pierce Falls, willya.  That still bugs the hell out of me.

Nice trip report.

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"...Other than that, the post was more or less accurate."

Bernardo, NW Hikers' Bureau Chief of Reporting
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Beave
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PostSun Apr 20, 2008 8:50 pm 
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Thanks for the report Elvis. I wanted to take a trip down to the dam for a couple years now (haven't since many years ago), but your TR and pics certainly quenched that thirst. Great shots!

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Craig
http://www.flickr.com/photos/climbercraig66/sets/
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



Joined: 09 Jun 2004
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Location: del Boca Vista
Elvis
Shuffl'n
PostTue Apr 22, 2008 7:22 pm 
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SF - thanks for the cool waterfall background.  Any insights about the little metal cones?

Quark - all through that section of the trail between the suspension bridge and the avalanche I kept thinking "Quark would go nuts if she was here.  All that is missing is some mud, sand and big stumps."   There was a lot of rusted metal debris in the area and also a cool rock retaining wall that was assembled one rock at a time.  We figured it used to support a walkway alongside the former road.

Beave - glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks about this area.  Head on out there later this summer.  I highly recommend starting at Diablo dam, follow the Diablo Lake Trail to Ross dam, poke around all day and then enjoy a $10 scenic boat ride at 3:30pm (or is it 4:00?) back to your starting point.  If the weather is nice you'll never forget it.   up.gif

~E

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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DRSpalding
Probably riding MTB



Joined: 13 Mar 2008
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DRSpalding
Probably riding MTB
PostTue Apr 22, 2008 10:37 pm 
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With that marker in the yellow field being small, I would bet it is some sort of survey marker that is used as a major reference from whereever it can be seen from.  It looks like an inverted plumb bob.
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touron
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PostWed Apr 23, 2008 12:21 am 
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I wonder what construction was used to create the Ross Pattern?  Do any other dams have this kind of pattern?

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Touron is a nougat of Arabic origin made with almonds and honey or sugar, without which it would just not be Christmas in Spain.
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Sadie's Driver
Sadie's Driver



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Sadie's Driver
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PostWed Apr 23, 2008 1:18 am 
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Elvis -

The low level of the reservoir is because we are anticipating a "boat load" of melt before too long and we will need the capacity for storage and to minimize run-off.  There's a lot of snow in them-thar hills!

Touron, I'll find out about the cement pattern for you!  s.d.

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Four-paw buddy lets me tag along!
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noknees
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noknees
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PostThu Apr 24, 2008 1:47 pm 
the dam cave
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I don't know but have suspected for years that the cave represents the north end anchor point of the hi-line that suspended the bucket used to dump concrete in building the dam.

The other fixture with the yellow highlighting I also suspect is a geo marker that has to do with montioring earth movement from quakes, etc that might impact the dam or stress the concrete....

Check out the fence at the north end of Ross dam as you hike along the top of the dam structure...... sometime....... if you want to see bombproof construction.......it was put in place about 5 years ago and I haven't figured out why.......

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Older & slower but still going
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Traildad
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PostThu Apr 24, 2008 10:39 pm 
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noknees wrote:
Check out the fence at the north end of Ross dam as you hike along the top of the dam structure...... sometime....... if you want to see bombproof construction.......it was put in place about 5 years ago and I haven't figured out why.......

We ate lunch at the north end of Ross Dam last August on the last day of a 7 day trip with my son's Scout troop.  That is indeed a sturdy structure you mention.
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Elvis
Shuffl'n



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Elvis
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PostThu Apr 24, 2008 11:48 pm 
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I snapped a single picture of the fence noknees mentioned.  It is peculier and we spent a few minutes there, debating the obvious questions:  Why here?  Why so sturdy... but clearly ineffective to keep someone from getting around the sides and obviously not built to keep rockfall from crushing it from the top down.

To top it off, there is a slight trail off to the left (toward Diablo Lk) which looks like a very dangerous area to venture... and it's only blocked by a single chain and a keep out sign that you can just step over.  The whole thing is just weird.
Keep Out
Keep Out

After looking at the north cave high up the cliff, it does appear to be some kind of anchor which would make sense with your theory.

I may as well share this pic of the road down to the dam, blasted through the rock.  Ignore the annoying waterspot in the left corner.  As it turns out, Cotton may kill, but polyester is useless at drying off a wet camera.   doh.gif
Just Wide Enough
Just Wide Enough

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"Ill habits gather unseen degrees, as brooks make rivers, rivers run to seas."  ~John Dryden
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