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January Trip of the Month: The Mica Peak traverse offers plenty of adventure close to home

UPDATED: Tue., Jan. 21, 2020

Todd Dunfield, right, and Nneka Palmer try and stay dry on Saturday Jan. 11, 2020 while hiking along the 12-mile Mica Peak Traverse. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)
Todd Dunfield, right, and Nneka Palmer try and stay dry on Saturday Jan. 11, 2020 while hiking along the 12-mile Mica Peak Traverse. (Eli Francovich / The Spokesman-Review)

If you’re looking for some vigorous suffering in a beautiful setting – all while staying close to home – the Mica Peak traverse is the trip for you.

The 12-mile thru-hike would be a serious undertaking in any condition. Add 2 or more feet of snow and you have a full-blown adventure, all 30 minutes from Spokane.

To be clear, this is a hard hike requiring a high level of physical fitness and route finding skills. Bring food, water and extra clothes. Despite its proximity to Spokane and the Spokane Valley, there are plenty of opportunities to get in trouble.

But for those up to the challenge, it can be a rewarding endeavor with more than a touch of backcountry adventure.

I recommend following the Gaia GPS track recorded below, in addition to using trail maps provided by Spokane County.

On Saturday, Nneka Palmer and I joined Todd Dunfield, the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy community conservation program manager, and Jeff McMurtery, Scott Hicks and Hal Hudson. The hike was Dunfield’s brainchild, one he’d first done last January.

Dunfield, who also volunteers for the Washington Trails Association, knew that in 2018 a 901-acre parcel was purchased by Spokane County connecting the Liberty Lake Regional Park with the Mica Peak Conservation Area.

“(The hike idea) came from me from looking at maps and working at INLC,” he said. “It was the brainchild of volunteering at WTA and working here at INLC.”

We met at the Liberty Lake Regional Park and carpooled to the Belmont Trailhead. Hiking from Belmont to Liberty Lake, puts all the hard hiking within the first 4 or so miles.

Heavy snowfall over the past several days meant we started in snowshoes. The year prior, they’d walked the first mile in hiking boots.

From the trailhead, we trekked along an old road and motorcycle trail for about 2.7 miles, gaining elevation the entire time. Eventually, we connected with the 1.2-long, partially completed, WTA trail.

The hike got more vigorous after the 2-mile mark as the grade increased and the snow deepened.

For anyone trying to recreate this hike, we stayed to the north of the Department of Natural Resources Land. When the road starts to head south at about 2.7 miles, take a sharp left hand turn. Cross Saltese Creek. You’ll come to the WTA trail at around the 3-mile mark.

The trail, which is not done, gently gains elevation while weaving between trees. Look for a quick detour (included in the Gai GPS track) to a long abandoned mica mine.

From here, we hiked to near the top of Mica Peak (the true summit is owned by the Federal Aviation Administration and is not accessible). On a clear day, there are commanding views of the Spokane Valley and Mount Spokane.

Continue up the western flank of the mountain and drop down until you come to a road and turnaround area, roughly 4 miles into the hike.

Continue east along the upper section of Henry Road. The road hugs the northern flank of Mica Peak.

At this point, you will have entered the 901-acre parcel of land purchased by Spokane County in 2018. With that purchase, the 3,591-acre Liberty Lake regional park and the Mica Peak Conservation area became one contiguous block of public land. Combined with nearby Department of Natural Resources Land, the whole area totals more than 5,000 acres, making it the fourth-largest block of public land in Spokane County.

Mull over that factoid as your legs burn.

Although Henry Road is flat, it was covered in drifted snow, adding to the overall workload. Follow this road along the ridge. Eventually, it will turn into a narrow jeep trail.

The remainder of the hike is flat or downhill and stays on clearly marked roads. The confusing bit, Dunfield said, is that there are multiple roads and junctions.

“There are opportunities to make a mistake,” he said. “It’s worth stopping, pulling out a map or pulling out your smartphone to get those connections right.”

Spokane County plans to install more signage, which will make that section of the hike significantly easier.

At roughly 8 miles, you’ll come to a four-way trail crossing. Continue straight, heading down and slightly northeast along a clear path. When in doubt, hike downhill.

Finally, after another 1.5 miles or so, you’ll connect with the Edith Hansen Trail. From here, follow the signs into the Liberty Lake Regional Park and back to the warmth and convenience of the internal combustion engine.

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