The Carbon River Flood of 2006

The Carbon River at Mount Rainier National Park was long a problem. In many spots the road was below the height of the river – and it ran right next to the river, with a thin separation of trees. Not shockingly, it often got flooded in off season and the road was slowly being eaten away, on both sides. Deep ditches were not uncommon. It was a 4.5 mile section, from the park entrance (where the ranger station was) to the car campground at Ipsut Creek that was the issue. The park would make fusses periodically about closing it, as they had done with the Westside Road. But it remained as the campground was popular with those wanting a more backwoods experience (not RV or trailer friendly at all by this point). Till November 6th & 7th 2006, when 18″ of rain fell over Paradise, and all over the park, in a short 36 hours. It had been raining for weeks at this point, and the mountain had had enough. It destroyed campgrounds, roads and infrastructure (the winds took off the roofs off 2 of the lookout towers in the park!). It was so bad the park closed entry for 6 months till they could figure out a plan. Later, in December a windstorm toppled many trees, damaged by the flooding. 13 years has gone by now, and with the huge growth in population in the greater Seattle area – and how many love to hike here, I have to think many don’t even know the story or how it used to look before the floods.

The Carbon was the lost child, far removed from the rest of the park. And it might have stayed that way longer, but people couldn’t stay away from the park. People continued to enter the park, though it was closed to everyone. Sadly a couple lost their lives when one fell in off a log, into a side creek, and the other jumped in to try to save them, and they were pulled into the Carbon River. After that the park cut a new path through and got a bridge over Ipsut Creek (the car bridge was long gone down the Carbon) to keep hikers safer. This path was crude at best, and within a few years the path would become a true one, well graded, and put up higher where it could be. In late Spring of 2007 though you could still pick out the old road easily. It was criss crossed with 100’s of downed trees and the road itself ran as a side path of the river.

After the flood the park shut the road to vehicle use and opened it up as a hiking/biking path. The path was wide enough for ATV’s so the park could continue to have access deep into the park. The car campground became an official backcountry camp. They left the toilets, the picnic tables. The sites were massive and great for getting people into backpacking. The park added first bear poles for food bags, then later lockers. I loved the lockers, you could leave backpacks, even coolers, and not worry all night long. It is black bear territory. In fact, I saw my first bear at that campground in 2003.

When the park reopened in late Spring of 2007, we went out to see how it had changed. It was shocking. It was me, my friend Cat and Ford, who was 9 at the time. I’d return many times over the years, and each time I’d find more of the area had healed – and changed, as the park service worked on it.

And the tiny parking lot at the ranger station worked then, but not for long. It only held a few cars.

The first part of the road survived fine, and the forest was not impacted much.

The old road, torn up, with water in it, and parts slumped.

As we hiked on the trees started showing up, thrown across the road. The new path was cut above.

The road was on the left. The park pushed a path up in the sand/silt, and put wood “bridges” to cover gaps.

This massive rootball would remain for a few years. The park carved a path around it. The old road is to the left, destroyed.

In winter that year, checking it out.

There were sections that looked the same as they had the year before.

Then you rounded a corner. The road had been where the river poured before. A trail had been hacked out by the edge, in front of Ford.

The bridge the park put in quickly so no more lives would be lost hopefully. Ipsut Creek normally is a mild creek, but when rain swollen it is dangerous. This bridge would eventually get replaced with a wide one that bikes could go over. The broken road sits on the other side, not far from the campground.

Time marched on and in Spring of 2012 the better bridge was in.

And in 2013 the work continued.

Car campground sites – big and roomy.

Ford on the other side of the road. On the other side of where the car bridge had been.

The old guard station had barely escaped being destroyed. It had sat next to the creek, in a scenic spot that now barely existed. The park would move the building and repair it later on. It was moved to the far end of the campground, where the trail to the Wonderland Trail starts.

In the Spring of 2012 it was being rebuilt.

Car campground privies. The park eventually removed the garbage cans. It was great while it lasted….

The new privies installed in sometime in 2011-12. With improved ventilation and solar panels.

Looking back on the way out the next day.

The Mountain takes when she wants to.

We’d head to the Nisqually entrance at the end of 2007, for snowshoeing.

It was so odd to see an entire campground gone, wiped away.

A lot of land was wiped out.

We went back for a hike at the end of 2007, in lowland snow. The old roadbed was full of water.

Walking through the snow along the old road bed to the left.

Kirk came out with Ford and I in early 2008 to check it out. Looking back down the old road bed, it had become both streams and little lakes.

You’d pop back and forth on the trail, and onto old road, then you’d see a pond that was road.

The farther you went out, the more destruction there was. This part, a sliver of the Carbon River flowed.

Near the end of the road, where the damage was most severe the road signs were often the only way to see it had once been a road.

As the trail became good trail, and the hiking became easy, the push to explore came.

Just past the campground on the trail to the Wonderland Trail is the side trail to Isput Creek/waterfall. The storms had taken out the power station building.

The tiny canyon the waterfall is in is the best on hot days. It is always chilly and refreshing. The creek didn’t get messed up here and wasn’t messed up.

Early summer of 2012, we walked up the Wonderland Trail to see the damage. The park had built bridges to hop around where there was no trail anymore. It navigated over slow moving side waters of the Carbon River and across jumbles of downed trees. We made it out to where the trail ceased to exist, and crossed over the Carbon River to use the Northern Loop trail on the other side.

On the way back we passed a section where the Carbon River had gone over its banks and pushed down a side channel, far from the river, where it pushed into Ipsut Creek later. It left behind a mess of logs, that 4.5 years later was a pit.

On the way back, where the road had been torn away, 4+ years of growing was softening the damage, and the trail was wide now.

The forest hadn’t changed much inland. It remained an inland temperate rainforest.


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