U.S. Forest Service warns of dangers of spring hiking

With an unusually warm start to spring the forest service is warning early hikers to be extremely careful.

SNOQUALMIE, Wash. — After a snowy winter and an abnormally warm start to spring, the U.S. Forest Service is warning early hikers to be extremely careful.

Almost all of the trails in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest are still snow-covered, and many roads to trailheads are closed.

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On a beautiful, warm, April afternoon, few places are more enticing than the National Forest, with its spectacular view and trails hugged by old growth, but spring hiking is not without risk -- maybe even greater risk than in years past.

"I think people are underestimating the conditions and we have a number of trails that are relatively close in, like Lake 22 or, say, Mt. Pilchuck, and there's snow on them. We have route-finding issues, traction issues," explained Matt Riggen with the Forest Service, who is based at the Darrington ranger station.

Riggen says of the 1,400 miles of trail in this forest, only about 25 percent are accessible today.

“The lower elevation melted out early and that can kind of fool you,” Riggen said.

There haven’t been any serious injuries -- yet, but a KIRO 7 viewer captured an avalanche cascading down the cliffside above the Big Four Ice Caves off Mountain Loop Highway.

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That’s where two people were killed and nearly half a dozen injured in a collapse last summer. The road to the trailhead is closed but people are still hiking it and it opens this weekend.

Trail damage -- nearly $2 million-worth from winter storms -- is also contributing to inaccessibility. Zachary McBride and volunteers with the Washington Trails Association are out making repairs, but this year it’s particularly messy.

“There’s been a lot more water erosion; there’s been a lot more blowdowns which are trees that have been thrown across the trail,” said McBride.

Riggen and McBride want to see people enjoy the place they both love, but only if people understand they’ll get tough love in return.

"They might find themselves in feet-deep snow, which presents all kinds of challenges if you're not prepared for it," Riggen concluded.