Columbia River Gorge Tour #2


The creek below Wahkeena Falls

Initially, Denise and I headed for Latourell Falls.  The sky was foggy, the temperature cool, so I was not overly excited, but I wanted to stretch my legs and take some photos with my new camera.   Once we got on the scenic highway at Corbett, plans evolved.  We stopped at first great viewpoint,  known as the Portland Women’s Forum Viewpoint.  Not a bad seat in the joint.  I’d never been to the far end to the parking lot before, with slightly better views of the river and a classic look at Crown Point.  From there, we drove to the nearby Vista House atop Crown Point, then dropped into the trees on the winding road to the first big falls of the Gorge.

For a few reasons, we didn’t set out on a real hike at Latourell Falls, which I’ve previously documented on this site.  Instead, we strode up the first steep pitch to a nice viewpoint of the falls, then turned back.  I was thinking Shepperd’s Dell would be our next spot, but I forgot all about Bridal Veil Falls State Park!  Silly me.  It isn’t dramatic from the road, but this is a hidden gem with two very different trails.  Since Denise had not seen the river overlook trail, we skipped the waterfall trail and ambled about the meandering flat trail.  There are views of the mighty Columbia in both directions, and great head-on looks at the Washington side of the Gorge in the Cape Horn area.

Shepherd’s Dell is not much of a spot to hike, but it has a cool falls, which is made more mysterious by upper reaches I’d never before noticed.   The watercourse almost corkscrews. Cascades are visible through the trees along the highway which are invisible from the trail itself.   This is a great little spot for a rest.


Wahkeena Falls

Like its big brother Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls is a popular spot, and with good reason.  The falls is not one clean plunge, but a couple of horsetails and a cascade below to boot.  The base of the main falls is easily accessible by paved trail.


Fern gully

Knowing this, we cruised up there.  It only takes a few minutes.   I was impressed by the flow and the breeze which that created.  I didn’t dally long by the falls proper, but continued past.  We hiked up about 11 switchbacks to Lemmon Viewpoint, which took perhaps 20 minutes.  I didn’t remember how tough the trail was, but it was easy, and the views were great.  It was a nice capper to another great tour of the Columbia River Gorge.


Lemmon Viewpoint and Washington

Note:  In double checking spellings of a couple waterfalls, I stumbled on a cool site for waterfall lovers, Northwest Waterfall Survey.  I knew a number of the names, like Ecola and Mist, but was not aware of Dalton, Little Necktie, and a few others.   Just when I needed new ideas for local exploration!  Happy hikes, everyone.


East to Beacon Rock




Misty Moody Mountains

They’re not actually called the Misty Moody Mountains, but the description fit on a gray day above Whittier.  The rain came early and stopped.  My regular trail pants got soaked from brushing against dripping trailside bushes, and made me wish I had my rain paints.  Oh well. The trail did not get close to the waterfall I was attempting to spy up close, but the hike was beautiful anyway.  Don’t you agree?

Gray Green Beautiful Scene

Alaska is large.  Who knew?  It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day.  And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way.  We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings.  It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country.  I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short.  Alaska is its own world.

The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska.  And there’s more.  Lots more.  The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage.  Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas.  No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience.  More to come.


Alaska’s Savage Alpine Trail


Just another view in Alaska

Denali National Park is so big, the bus ride from the visitor’s center to the end of the road, which is not even at the far end of the park, is over 90 miles.  Denise and I had only one day to see what we could, and the park entrance is over a two hour drive from Talkeetna.  That doesn’t count our requisite random mountain photo stops.  Denali dominates the landscape much of the way, but beyond that, there were countless lesser peaks, some glacier draped, some craggy, some forested.  The entirety of these peaks, these wild areas, borders on overwhelming.  It is good to know that such wilderness still exists when development threatens it in so many other places.


At the visitor center, we asked a few questions, used the plumbing, saw some exhibits, then headed toward a spot I’d already considered based on a tip from my sister Sarah.  She and my niece had been in the park a few months earlier, and they had love the Savage Alpine Trail, a dozen miles into the park.  Good enough for me!

The Savage Alpine Trail is a point to point hike with a car or bus shuttle in between.  We opted for the closer beginning because we found parking there and heard it could be tight at the far end.  The trail climbed casually through a scrubby forest above a creek, with views popping out here and there.  Eventually we started climbing the side of a ridge, and views became far reaching in short order.  We passed other hikers, and they passed us back a few times until the trail began climbing in earnest, switchbacking above the treeline into a world dotted with rocks and various ground cover.  Denise was the one pushing the pace.  I was almost giddy with excitement to hike in such terrain.  I love open alpine ecosystems.

Descending hikers told us there were Dall sheep hanging out near the trail above us.   It would be our first large Alaskan mammal sighting.   We rounded a sort of promontory and got stunning views of the broad ridge above us, but more importantly, to the Alaska Range in the other direction.   We were probably fifty miles from Denali, and range after range were in front of it.  They could not hide the massive peak’s majesty.  I geeked out on the terrain right here, on the shoulder of a minor peak, only a two mile hike from the road.   Then we turns up hill and saw the sheep.  They were lying in repose on a rocky crest above the trail, seemingly at ease with hikers nearby.  Awesome.


The trail descends a bowl in an arc, then angles toward a rocky spur.  It was fun terrain that got challenging on that spur, where we navigated among small crags and descended steep rock steps.  No casual switchbacks here. It was an entirely different trail than the one we’d casually climbed.  It made me wonder if traversing the route the other direction was more popular and easier on middle aged knees.  There certainly seemed to be more hikers at this end.  The snowy high peaks of the Alaska Range seemed to tease us in the distance.  At the same time, the farther we descended, the more we could see of the shining Savage River.  The final half mile took longer than expected, but the views were always there, in every direction.

At the bottom of our descent, I wandered along the Savage River while we waited for the shuttle bus.  This was a fantastic introduction to Denali National Park.  Certain spots and certain views reminded me of places I’d seen in Colorado or California, but ultimately, Alaska is always its own place.  The scale is too grand to compare to anywhere else in the U.S.  I hope I’ll be back for more.  For now, it was beer thirty, and then we would move on to other Alaskan adventures.


The river was more beautiful than savage

Alaska the Easy Way


Not bad for foothills.  Tokosha Mountains, AK.

My first trip to Alaska didn’t last nearly long enough.  That said, my wife planned a heck of a trip in a tight time window.  We flew late at night from Portland to Anchorage.  After a few hours sleep, we ate breakfast at a nearby café which included reindeer sausage.  Yep.  Soon enough we had a rental car and headed north.  Talkeetna, here we come.  As soon as we passed the city limits, mountains loomed to the north and east. The forests were not as dense as those I am accustomed to in Oregon and Washington.  The hemlocks and spruces were lovely, but on the small side.  No matter.  The scale of the land itself was cause for celebration. We stopped at a few different spots and saw stunning vistas.  Mountains, lakes, wildlife and cute towns.  I envisioned a hundred hikes on that two hour drive.

We arrived in Talkeetna a bit earlier than expected, and I moved up a flightseeing trip as a result.  Twist my arm.  Ten of us flew in a small plane courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi north to the Alaska Range.   From the braided Susitna River to the Ruth Glacier and a fly by of big peaks, I was in heaven.  We landed high on a glacier and gawked for fifteen minutes.  Immaculate snowy peaks with massive cliffs were everywhere. The weather was perfect for us, if a bit warm for alpinists.  For a mountain lover, this was almost a surreal experience, a bucket list trip to be sure.

Back in Talkeetna, Denise and I grubbed at Denali Brewing’s patio on a warm evening. They had a nice beer selection and great food.  Mostly I remember the peanut butter pie.  After exploring the town a bit more, including some unique street vendors, we retired to our room in the quaint Roadhouse. A nap was in order, but shortly after 11 p.m., we got up and headed out in search of the Aurora Borealis.  We found it nearby. My photos are not great, but I include one for reference.  Interestingly, there is a firm in Talkeetna that offers lesson on how to take photos the northern photos. Next time I will bring a better camera and take that lesson.

Not bad for one day.  Look for more photos soon, including some of spectacular  hiking in Denali National Park.  Happy hiking.



Just Another Manic Sunday


Cool, clear, classic Clackamas River


Dawn broke clear and cool over the upper Clackamas River drainage after an impromptu camping trip amid the teeming hordes escaping the metro area.  Every campground was full for miles.  So it goes.  It was a great morning to look at clear water, tall trees, and mossy rocks.  Then there was the low waterline at Detroit Lake, living the late summer reservoir life of stumps and marinas in the mud.  We did a lot of walking, although we didn’t end up taking a serious hike.  We simple went with the flow, something at which I do not always excel.  We found gorgeous spots of placid river, and soaked up views from the dam at the foot of Detroit Lake. Ten to fifteen fishermen cast their lines right off the top of the dam.  Some of them were even successful.  Pretty cool.

Once we got out of the foothills, we had a decision to make.  We could go to a popular hiking area like Silver Falls or Opal Creek, but we opted instead to do something a bit more unique, based on the classic on-the-fly smart phone search.  Onward to Willamette Mission State Park!  It was there that Jason Lee established a Methodist mission in 1834, two decades before Oregon was even a state, and survival had to come before any conversion of Native Americans.  The part comprises almost 900 acres of river, lakes, orchards, and open fields. It’s just over an hour from home, yet I’d never visited.  Time to change that.


The edge of Goose Lake


Once in the park, we walked the short trail to the of Goose Lake, then drove to the viewing spot of the nation’s largest Black Cottonwood, which is not incredibly tall in comparison to redwoods or Douglas firs, but boy, that trunk is massive!


Denise soaking up the wisdom of the tree


One of the cool things the park does is create what they term a ghost structure, which duplicates the basic shape of the original mission buildings.  The structure was built close to the riverbank,  and mosquitoes were a big problem, along with malaria.   Not such a great spot, as it turns out.  The mission moved to Chemeketa, now known as Salem, in 1840.  Ironically, an 1861 flood ravaged the area, and the main river channel moved further west.  The water below the ghost structure is now a landlocked lake most of the year.


The ghost structures

The trails were pretty, and dotted with nut trees and apple trees.  There were many walnut trees, and a lot of a few other species, which probably included filbert trees.   A few deer darted through the area, perhaps looking to nosh on some apples.


Once we left the orchard area, we discovered a path to the Willamette River itself, on a quiet rocky beach with calm water that instantly make me think of Huckleberry Finn.  I skipped a few rocks, which Jackie wanted to chase.  Sorry, not a ball, buddy.


I swear Huck left his raft here somewhere


It was a lovely spot, and the temperature was perfect.  Just visible downstream was the Wheatland Ferry.  It seemed such an quaint anachronism that we had to take it.Such happenstance led us to Dayton, a cute little town which was apparently founded by Joel Palmer, part of the Barlow Road entrepreneurial team and namesake of the Palmer snowfield and chairlift at famed Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood.  We also chowed on great burgers at the Block House Café.  Then came the Sunday afternoon traffic issues, part of which was caused by a pair of tractors on the highway, which seemed humorous yet fitting in Oregon’s wine country, and a fitting capstone for the day.


Rather pretty if I do say so.  Note the cabin on the far left.

Off the Beaten Path Waterfall Stash

Above Mccord1

On the hike up, I enjoy geology on parade


I just wanted to get out of the city on a hot afternoon. Without meaning to, however, I found a series of tiny cascades in the Columbia River Gorge.  The primary trail I hiked ends in a nice spot, but ever inquisitive, I wanted to see what was around the corner.  I continued up the bedrock of the stream.  There were a couple of herd paths around logs and tiny cliffs, but it was almost as easy to clamber over rocks and logs, or simply hike in the very shallow water.  Every turn offered a new gorgeous scene, with water, rock, greenery, and sky all vying for my attention.

Many of the spots seemed more dramatic due to the volcanic rock over which the water flowed, and on which I trod.  Eventually, I sat on a mossy boulder at one point and simply took it all in, walking down only after I’d enjoyed the quiet canyon for almost an hour. It may seem strange to not mention the name of the trail, but I’d like to keep this a hidden gem.  What about you?  Do you have special places in the wild you would prefer to keep secret?

Youngs Creek Bottomland


It is not often one gets to walk on flat ground in the Columbia River Gorge. For an area with a wide river and mostly minor mountains, there’s few hikes without healthy elevation gain.  For those of you keeping score, that’s what makes it a National Scenic Area.  That and the countless classic waterfalls.  Sometimes, however, flat ground is the best spot of all from which to appreciate high ground.

Rooster Rock State Park has a hidden side, reached best from the east bound exit ramp from Highway 84.  A short access road drops down near Mirror Lake to a tiny parking area.  An obvious track leads east over mostly flat ground through a deciduous forest toward open land that does indeed offer great views of the surrounding hills.  The walking is easy for the first mile and a half.  After that, the land gets more brushy, and I had to exercise care to avoid thorns and stickers which seemed to possess varying levels of malice.  I still got some nice scratches on my calves.  Waaah.

The end goal of the Youngs Creek hike is a bridge over the modest creek.  I wandered around the area for a while, trying to get a glimpse of waterfalls above.  I could not, although I could see Angel’s Rest in the distance as well as numerous nearby cliffs before I plunked my pack down on the bridge and contemplated the noises of the sunlit world.  The highway is near to the north, and the railroad is just below the flanks of the hills to the south.  Yet I felt very serene in this so called bottomland, which would certainly look rather different in winter or early spring.  Today, however, it was a dry, yellowing land.   The forested areas felt very different, with tall grasses and bushes pushing into the shaded track.   Another good one in the books.


There was magical light in this patch of forest, a fitting end to my afternoon




This is What’s SUP, Oregon

20160807_105811The other day we tried stand up paddle boarding.  The temperature was mild, it was cloudy, and wind was fairly constant, creating a little chop on the water.  Add to those conditions our novice nature, and the standing up part was more difficult than I imagined.  Did I mention Jackie Chan came with us?  He started on Denise’s larger board, but when we got far apart at one point, he jumped off and tried to swim to me.  Keystone Kops complications ensued.  Luckily, all ended well, and I got more confident standing by the time we finished.  I will happily try this again, preferably when it’s sunny and calm.  Photo courtesy of Jeff Briley at Cascadia SUP.  He rents locally in Portland if people are interested.  Now I’m off to a hike in the sun.

Cobbling Together an Adventure


Looking towards Whiteface Mountain and Wilmington Notch

The view is easily worth the effort expended on the short hike and scramble to reach the top of Cobble Hill, especially when considering the trail’s proximity to town.  The Adirondacks can be like that.  My wife and I set out for a small adventure last week as our vacation was winding down.  A big peak did not seem in the offing, but we found another small hike to a great view, this time near the tourist town of Lake Placid.


The beginning of the hike meanders through flat deciduous forest, but soon starts climbing.  There is even a signed warning that the way is steep.  We continued. At one point the route crosses rock steep enough that someone has placed a rope for a handline.  I was slightly surprised to see one guy pass us wearing only Crocs on his feet.  Said path continues across patches of open rock and ledges.  We had to use our hands in a few spots, but the grade tapers off before the summit.  Like our last hike at Flume Knob, Cobble Hill offers broad views in a few directions.  There are great views to the south and east, but I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t catch glimpses of Mirror Lake and Lake Placid.

An alternate route takes a longer, mellower route down, one that actually has switchbacks.  The way is peaceful and the grade is easier.  We passed through some gorgeous birch forest and skirted the edge of the lovely Echo Lake.  Other than that, the descent was uneventful, but this is a worthy hike if you have limited time.

I did no other significant hikes while I was back east, but it was great to be there, visiting family and enjoying an entirely different environment.  The Adirondacks are a long way from Oregon, but visiting them is always a pleasure.