I never need an excuse to hike up Swift Creek Trail — but even so, I had a good excuse. Next week I am joining three much-younger-and-fitter-than-me women on an overnight backpack up Swift Creek. Whereas I am very cautious about creek crossings, and wait until I can safely wade across, these women strike me as acrobatic rock hoppers. I wanted to be sure I could cross the creeks before I head up the canyon with them. You could call it a test-run. You are probably asking why I am joining these women who I have never hiked with before on a hike where they are likely to kick my butt. Yep. I’m asking myself the same question. I don’t have any idea why. It boggles my brain.
So last Tuesday I set off for a day-hike up Swift Creek Trail to Fosters Cabin. I’ve hiked up this trail so many times that it felt like coming home after a long winter break. It’s five miles to the cabin and my mind has the hike divided into four sections; each different and uniquely wonderful. The end of each section would be a good turn around point for a shorter day-hike.
The first section is one mile long and for me the highlight is the little trailside meadow filled with the carnivorous California Pitcher Plants (classified as rare but common along some Trinity Alps trails) and an assortment of wild orchids. As if this little pocket meadow isn’t enough to charm the boots off you, the first section ends with an incredible view into Swift Creek Gorge. The exclamation point at the end of a lovely walk. If you’re just up for a short walk, you could turn around here and you’d be glad you came.
The next mile and a half section is notable for its big trees and lovely smell. I can never remember which type of pine tree smells like an ice cream sundae with caramel topping so I bury my nose in the bark of every pine tree I pass and take a big sniff. Caramel or just plain tree-smell, it’s always wonderful. If you walk up Swift Creek Trail during the short two-week window that the wild azaleas are blooming you will have the additional smell-good treat of azalea fragrance which always brings to mind root beer. The combination of caramel sauce and root beer is intoxicating and sometimes I just lay on the trail and stare at the sky. This second section ends with the first major creek crossing, Steer Creek. Early in the season I frequently turn around here due to the aforementioned hesitation to cross raging creeks. But already this year, it is wade-able.
While the first two sections climb moderately, the third and fourth sections feel relatively flat. The third section is one mile long and goes from the Steer Creek crossing to the Parker Creek crossing. Along the way you pass a lush little meadow where I always stop to wait for the bears to come frolic among the lilies. Alas, I’ve never seen a bear frolic in this meadow, but stopping to wait and watch is one of my traditions. Before long, the trail reaches Parker Creek. There have been a couple of times when it felt comfortable to cross Steer Creek, but didn’t feel safe to cross Parker Creek. This time though, it was easy-peasy. If you have shorts on, Parker Creek has a little sitting pool to cool off.
The fourth and final stretch of trail to Fosters Cabin runs adjacent to the fabulous Parker Meadow. The meadow, to your right, is so mesmerizing that you may forget to look left in which case you will miss seeing the Lorna Doone rock; so named because my friend Amy and I ate an entire box of Lorna Doone cookies here and then had to sleep it off. After a mile and a half of spectacular meadow and abundant flowers and butterflies, you reach Fosters Cabin. This is a great place to sit and meadow-watch. I have spotted many bears over the years. Never frolicking though. Maybe bears don’t actually frolic.