Saturday, January 14, 2017

It’s not often that I get out to hike these days. But we’ve had a fantastic winter so far, and after a week of insanely cold temperatures and clear weather, I just had to get out and take advantage before the warm weather and rains took over. I’ve always wanted to hike to the lookout on East Moscow Mountain in the winter, but on every attempt, I was thwarted with people who just couldn’t make it all the way up. So on Saturday, I had a nice sunny day and some time to go for a snowshoe hike on my own. Since the temperatures hadn’t really risen above 25º in the past week, the snow was still fresh looking on the trees. I was hoping for a similar experience to my 2013 summit of Spud Hill, but going solo on a trail that is well used and already packed down.

I left rather late, starting the hike after 1:00 pm. That’s ok as I was hoping to catch the soft afternoon light over the Palouse from the summit, but leave enough time to return to the car before it got dark and really cold. I parked the car and put on my snowshoes only to discover a large group of New St. Andrews students also starting their hike. We nodded hello and started up the mountain together, but they took off up another trail while I continued up the road. The first thing that I noticed was that the road was plowed past the parking area. And the gate just beyond was open. This was unprecedented. In the six years I’ve lived here, Tamarack Road has never been plowed beyond the parking area, and the gate has never been opened past October. But then, for the past two summers, the gate hasn’t been open for through traffic either. I’m not sure how far the road was cleared, but it was only limited to Tamarack Road which continues down the back side of the mountain. Moscow Mountain road remained full of snow, and technically I could have driven up and parked by the intersection, but the extra mile each way was good for me.

Tamarack Road is plowed and open this year.

The hike up isn’t bad regardless of the road conditions. It’s about 2.25 miles to the top with a vertical rise of 1000 feet. About a mile up, the trail turns onto Moscow Mountain Road, which traverses the mountain ridge east to west. Since the back side of the mountain is logged, there are many views to the north that open up along this section of the hike.

Views open up to the north on Moscow Mountain Road. In the distance we can see Bald Mountain and Palouse Divide.

Finally, the East Moscow Mountain spur road takes off to the left. This last half mile is up on the ridge and is fairly flat. We start to get a glimpse of the true summit of Moscow Mountain and the Palouse off in the distance, but for the most part, the road is flanked by dense forest on both sides. The road ends with a little turn-a-bout, and suddenly the view opens over the Palouse, about 2500 feet below.

The forest on top of Moscow Mountain.

This day was so clear, that I could see the Wallowas and the Seven Devils poking up above the horizon 100 miles away. The sun had been obscured by some clouds, which made the light a bit flat and challenging to work with, but the relative clarity of the atmosphere provided stunning views all around. I feel as though I made the right choice going up when I did. Though the sky was clearer the next day, there was more haze and the mountains in the distance would have been much less defined.

The Seven Devils are peaking up over the rim of Hells Canyon.
The Wallowas can be seen behind the clouded Lewiston-Clarkston valley and the Blue Mountains.

Moscow Mountain looks over the entire Idaho Palouse, and the southern portion of Washington’s Palouse. Both Moscow and Pullman are visible, though on this day, Pullman is partially hidden by a layer of fog spilling over from the Clearwater and Snake canyons (Lewiston and Clarkston valley). The sun came out just before I headed back to the car giving some definition to the rolling hills on the Palouse. Unfortunately, Kamiak Butte and everything north is obscured by the main summit of Moscow Mountain.

The town of Moscow, home to the University of Idaho.
View of Pullman and the Washington Palouse
The Palouse through the trees.
Looking east toward the Clearwater Mountains. Grandmother Mountain and Freezeout Ridge are visible in this image.
The overlook on East Moscow Mountain
My car, 1000 feet below.

In total, the view from the rocks is around 180º from Freezeout to Pullman, including the ability to see the Mallard Larkins, Selway Crags, Gospel Hump, Seven Devils, Wallowas, Selway/Payette Mountains, the Blue Mountains, a bit of Hells Canyon, and all of the hills of the southern Palouse.

A full panorama of the view on East Moscow Mountain stitched from 28 individual frames.

While it was a pleasant 18 degrees out, my water did freeze while I had my pack off on the summit. As I headed back to the car trying to beat the sunset, the light actually got better and better. A part of me wanted to stay up there just a bit longer to reshoot the views with that last evening light. But the cold had gotten to my batteries, and I wasn’t really prepared to stay up there much longer. Within less than an hour, the temperatures would drop about fifteen degrees. And that’s the problem with having a real winter. It gets so cold so fast that even while keeping my batteries warm in my coat pocket, they get cold in the camera very fast and quit on me. On the way out, I was able to capture the last light of the day glowing off the mountain from below.

This past year, I found myself in a bit of a photographic slump. It’s not that I didn’t create any great images – some of my favorites were made on Steptoe Butte. But I didn’t get out much, and when I did, I didn’t always bring or use the camera. I’m hoping I can crawl out of that slump this year to capture more of this stunning place before leaving it.

The last light of the evening glowing off of the mountain.

Hike map and stats:

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