My week of vacation was coming to a close. My visiting mother had left for the east coast, and I had to get back to the grind on Monday. One last hike. My target was a short hike to a waterfall southeast of the metro area. Abiqua Falls is near Silver Falls State Park, but more remote. Given the spotty weather and the below average access road, I was surprised to see as many people as I did. That seems to be a theme for me. I should probably stop being surprised. Recreating in the outdoors is more popular than ever, and in the Pacific Northwest, hiking to waterfalls is a great way to do that.
The trail is actually on private land, so don’t abuse the access privilege. Almost immediately, the path crosses over what looks like part of a motocross track. There is a nice viewpoint off to the right, but don’t get distracted. The route stays left. At times it is steep and muddy. People have attached ropes to trees as handlines in multiple spots, which speaks to the popularity of the spot as well as the nature of the trail. I found that trekking poles handy. In a quarter mile or so, the trail emerges on the rocky shore of a creek. The falls are out of sight, but the canyon is so gorgous, so lush and green, I wasn’t focused on that yet. I meandered upstream and turned a corner to find the falls in a rocky amphitheatre, like a jewel set in the forest. Truly spectacular.
Abiqua Falls is a good sized drop, and the pool below is large. Mossy cliffs curve away on either sides, making for a unique sight. I took my time, as others seemed to do, to absorb all those negative ions. Mist on the lens spoiled a number of my photos, but it was hard not to get some great shots of this verdant world. I loved the rusty hue of some of the exposed rock and the clarity of the water below. Like a great summit, this was a spot I didn’t want to leave.
I’ve climbed mountains in the Rockies, walked in temperate rainforests, scrambled in the Sonorans, and ambled across eastern wildflower meadows, but Dungeness Spit might be one of the most unique spots for a hike I’ve encountered. Situated on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the spit bends like a fishing rod into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as it reaches out to shake hands with Puget Sound.
I’d read that the spit was a nice place to visit, so when my mom visited from Virginia, I put it on our itinerary. I didn’t realize that I’d actually want more time to explore Dungeness Spit. A flat trail stretches along the top of a long bluff, accessible from a few different points. There were great views of the strait. At one point I did my best Sarah Palin impersonation. If not Russia, I could see, in fact, see Canada from the bluff. At the east end of the bluff, a trail heads through forest to the base of the spit itself. There are a few interpretive signs on viewing platforms, but I wanted to get down there. I just checked out the beginning of the driftwood-strewn, wave-lapped spit, which extends over five miles into the water, where a persistent sand hiker will find a lighthouse. I already want to return. Happy hiking.
Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy many pursuits besides hiking. Many of them involve creativity, eating, or nature. So it was that my lovely wife and I took out our new kayak the other day for a quick spin. It is a Swedish kayak that comes in three pieces which ratchet together. This means we can stuff the pieces in the back of a modest-sized vehicle or easily carry them down a path to the river. (The modular nature of the boat is also crucial for ease of storage). With all three pieces assembled, it’s good for two people (and a dog), while if you take out the middle piece, it works for one person. The trial run was on a gorgeous day in the Willamette Valley. We paddled upstream to Elk Rock Island, where we debarked and played around for bit on a beach. An osprey soared over the channel, and I longed to see it dive for a fish, but it was not to be. On the return leg, we passed a large sightseeing boat, the Portland Spirit, and we were concerned about its wake after ski boats had rocked us a tad, but because of its relatively slow speed, we were fine. I’m looking forward to more kayaking adventures in the future. Time for sunscreen and flotation devices!
A few cracked pavement curves past an hour from Portland, hikers can find an easy trail meandering up one of the prettiest creek drainages in the Cascades. If you aren’t satisfied with tiny beaches along Siouxon Creek, wait a tick. A gorgeous emerald pool will be coming soon. If that isn’t enough, there are a handful of waterfalls scattered through the lush forest. Some of the campsites look rather idyllic, too.
I’d been meaning to visit this area for while, and I finally got around to it on Saturday after taking care of some business. The late start meant no peak climbs, but there was a lollipop style loop that seemed perfect for the old three hour tour. When I arrived at the trailhead, I was slightly surprised to see dozens of vehicles. The weather was nice on Saturday, so it should have been no surprise, but I’d barely heard of the place. That’s probably my Oregon bias. Yes, Washington, I love you, too.
The trail descends briefly in a typical Cascadian forest: lots of big and a thorough blanket of green at boot height in ferns, oxalis, and wild species of moss. It is the proximity to water and the loveliness of the stream itelf which earns its popularity. The trail crosses lovely tributaries with small cascades splitting mossy ledges, then meanders through pretty forests. I kept sneaking peeks at the stream, whose green tinted pool was stunning. That color!
After passing a few campsites as well as a couple side trails, I reached Chinook Falls, a 50 food plunge into a big pool flanked by a cliff. I had to decide if I wanted to continue on a loop which would involve a serious stream crossing or return the way I’d come. After reveling in the spot for a few minutes, I realized the decision was pretty easy. I will always opt for new territory and a taste of adventure, even if that term has become relative as I’ve hit middle age. Not exactly
So it was that I came to the icy ford below the side trail toward Wildcat Falls. Sullivan’s guidebook suggested the ford would be little more than a rock hop in summer, but dangerous in winter. This was in the middle. I would be getting wet. Off came the boots, up rolled the pant cuffs. Then I found a spot that seemed feasible. The water was almost two feet deep in spots, and it was as cold as I could remember wading through since I was a young buck. As I moved, careful not to stumble, I could feel my circulation slowing. Every year, people drown on hot summer days because, once immersed in cold water, their bodies shunt blood to the torso rather than the limbs. In this instance, the cold only affected my lower legs, and I was upright. I kept moving, careful not to stumble, and I made it to the far bank in a couple minutes.
As in many outdoor endeavors, the most interesting part often comes when we push the limits just a touch. Finding the balance point between ability, conditions, and desire can sometimes be tricky. Along the bank of Siouxon Creek, that balance point was relatively simple. I dried my feet off, laced up my old boots, and walked out a much more deserted path. I did pass a number of campers, but only one other group seemed to be hiking in. This was a great moderate hike totaling about eight miles. I would gladly return, but probably during the week. I might have to do that this summer to check out Wildcat Falls, which I missed.
Side note: as I write, my stepson Casey and his girlfriend Maya should have arrived in Yosemite for an early backpacking trip. I am so jealous, and so glad they find value in outdoor adventures. I am sure they are going to have a blast with their friends. Happy and safe hiking, everyone.
It was a long week at work and I was exhausted, so I was slow moving yesterday morning. In the afternoon, however, D. and I headed out for a Gorge exploration in my new vehicle. We ended up hitting on a Gorge tick list of sorts, starting with the short hike to Bridalveil Falls, and ending in Hood River for a pint on a patio. We had our son’s new dog, which kept things interesting but fun. There were lots of clouds on the west end of the gorge, and we walked in the rain a bit at Bridalveil Falls, but we saw sunshine as we neared Hood River. At Starvation Creek Falls and Mitchell Point it seemed especially bright. It was a good afternoon and evening, reminding me how much I have to be thankful for. I am a lucky man, indeed.
I have walked dozens of pieces of the Pacific Crest Trail, but it seems funny that I missed a nearby section until yesterday. It would have been one of the last legs which Cheryl Strayed hiked on her now famous PCT adventure. I started at the Herman Creek trailhead, where I have been a couple times (the starting point for an Indian Point hike), and once I veered off onto the bridge trail, I realized I had walked this route in reverse twenty years ago. I had gone on a quick backpacking trip over Green Point Mountain and across to Benson Plateau. I had completed a twenty five mile loop by descending steeply from the plateau to this point. The creek crossing is lovely. Not a soul in sight. Serenity now. It would not have been difficult to stay there for much longer, listening to the babbling brook.
The trail climbs mostly gradually, but really meanders through the changing forest towards the PCT. The trail junction there is punctuated by a fantastic splintered stump. The walking was still casual, and still I had seen nobody since the initial junction on the Herman Creek Trail. It was midweek, but the weather was absolutely perfect, so I was surprised at the solitude, but longtime readers will know I’m not complaining. Heading north on the PCT, the trail soon crosses a rockslide. Cliffs loom high above the trail. The sun is barely hitting the trail due to the massive walls above.
After a second, wider rockslide, the trail ducks back into the trees, turns a corner, and then I could hear the distant whispers of a stream. The noise soon increased. I looked up at the stream crossing. The waterfall is partially hidden by some maples, so I scrambled uphill for an improved view. Pacific Crest Falls is a lovely two step falls which few people probably see, and if you are headed north, it could be easy to miss, but it’s worth the hike.
Making the trip even better, a couple hundred yards down the trail, there is a series of odd rocky piles known as the Herman Creek Pinnacles. Their fractured structure is fascinating, and I found decent views after scrambling up a rocky bump to the west, taking in the Columbia River, Washington foothills, even the white wall of a distant Mount Adams.
This was a fascinating area to explore, from the water features to the incredibly lush flora to the rocks. The hike is probably less than five miles round trip, so it’s an easy half day venture, and one well worth the drive. It’s also easy to connect with other short waterfall walks or explorations of Cascade Locks and Hood River. Enjoy.
These flowers on the flanks of mighty Mount Talbert were one of the highlights of a pair of afternoon walks I took today. They remind me of avalanche lilies, but it could be another species. There were other lovely flowers too, which surprised me given how wooded the area is. I did not hike very far. I just wanted to get a good sniff of nature. Everyone should do that now and again.
Besides Mount Talbert, I also checked out Minthorn Natural Area, a small wetland area close to home. It was not exactly pristine but I enjoyed seeing mallards and Canada geese with a train of goslings (no Ryans, sorry). There were also signs of homeless camps, but I chose to ignore them. The weather actually got nicer after I was done walking, and I thought about hitting a third spot for walking, but my hunger go the best of me. It usually does. Time to cook. Happy Sunday.
Hmm. Maybe after dinner I could walk along the river….
On any weekend with good weather, Cannon Beach tends to be swarmed by tourists, yet the area scenery is always peaceful and soothing. The ocean itself feels like an endless well of calm and inspiration. I enjoy staring at the shifting swells and breaking waves, the combination of scenery and the audible whish and splash of waves and the calls of seabirds making a truly unique spectacle. Westward lies a range of possibilities. Back in reality, I wanted to take a few modest walks right there, on the sand and in the forest. The weather even cooperated surprising for the Oregon Coast in early spring.
We rented a cottage near the beach and a quick walk showed an awesome sunset on display. Inhale that marine air! The next day, after hanging out with family for a few hours, I wanted to find a nearby hike and avoid repeating earlier endeavors. Once again, the internet was my friend. A quick search found a state park I didn’t know.
Multiple sites refer to Haystack Hill State Park, but I find no mention of it on the Oregon State Parks web page. Regardless, Haystack Hill is located roughly midway through Cannon Beach, climbing to a highpoint I’d previously missed. The acreage was supposedly donated to the state for preservation, and there has been no development beyond an unsigned trail which climbs the quarter mile to the top of the hill, then splits in a couple directions. I found a few unique views looking down on famous Haystack Rock. I also enjoyed some awesome trees and lush ground cover. What a great find.
Yesterday was gray and damp, and I didn’t have any great ambitions for a hike. Instead, I opted to explore an area where I used to rock climb on the flank of Portland’s Rocky Butte. As documented last year, a trail scales the butte in conjunction with the road, but I had no intention of climbing to the open summit with the cyclists and viewseeking drivers. I parked near the upper end of the trail and dropped into the forest as the trail cut through a gap in the crags.
The path flattens as it nears the noisy I-205, and I was somewhat surprised to see a number of tents dotting the area. A makeshift branch fence surrounded one camp. A pickup bedliner was used as a roof by another. How things change. The city is known to have a homeless problem, like many other cities. But for whom is it really a problem? These people live from hand to mouth in areas developers can’t yet touch and make massive profits. There is more trash in the woods than there used to be, but even when I came here to top rope routes in high school, there was graffiti and the occasional smashed beer bottle or three. I continued walking, wishing there were easy answers.
The cliffs are often dirty and covered in moss and the like, yet there are stretches that are very pretty, where there are climbs like Bird of Paradise, White Rabbit, and Blackberry Jam, that seemed like testpieces when I was 18. After navigating the slippery, mossy boulders beneath the crags, I found all of those climbs and more. Good memories. Climbers still use the butte, but probably not as much with the advent of indoor gyms and the development of the climbs in other nearby areas. Rain spattered the area as I wandered, but beneath the trees, it barely affected me. I only had to be exceedingly careful as I clambered over the rocks. Very slick going. Urban hiking can be a mixed bag. After seeing the homeless camps, and thinking about the twists and turns of my own life, I found myself with plenty to think about as I hiked back up hill to the car. It may have been just what I needed.
Smith Rock is one of those places where one’s attention is drawn to a few spots, while missing many of the gems in the park. Famous as a rock climbing destination for decades, Smith is a place touched by outdoor magic. It’s why I moved to nearby Bend when I was 19. That stay didn’t last long, but over the years, I continued visiting Smith regularly until the past decade. When I drove to the park last Saturday, I wanted a different experience. I went not as a climber but a simple hiker who likes to avoid the crowds. And crowds there were. Parking was a minor adventure. The regular lots were full before 10 a.m. Of course, it was the first really nice day in weeks, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Oregon’s spring break. Once I got my parking spot and bought a day pass, I geared up and hiked to the river crossing below the massive Picnic Lunch Wall. Unlike most people, I turned upstream at the junction there. I was headed toward Staender Ridge and the Marsupial Crags. It was a part of the park I’d never visited.
The cliffs are stupendous, and while not all crags are appealing for climbers, the overall setting is stunning. Partway up the ridge, there was the dry gulch of an old canal stemming from the 1940s. Above that, the Marsupial Crags beckoned a few climbers. They certainly looked worthy of the longer approach hike. I continued up the road to the saddle, and found myself sweating. It was fascinating to skirt behind cliffs I’d seen so many times from below, now looking way down on the popular climbing areas. Everything seemed less consequential from that height.
Leaving the saddle, I took the Summit Trail along the backside of the cliffs, heading west. Memories of youthful climbing exploits washed over my mind as I soaked in the views of distant peaks. The South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Jefferson. There had been so many memorable climbs at Smith itself, including the time I broke my leg. Now my joints creak when I hike a stiff hill. All around me, amazing cliffs, crags, and spires in a variety of hues. I could have gawked for hours. The trail descends in switchbacks through sage and juniper draped slopes, crossing through private land as the grade tapered, then turned to parallel the Crooked River, heading back upstream. In moments, the famous Monkey Face was visible-okay, the back of the monkey’s head.
As I passed a series of minor cliffs, the views of Monkey Face improved, and I could hear a group of climbers hundreds of feet up as they negotiated the final pitch of a route. Right at the northwest base of the tower, the river trail intersected with the Misery Ridge Trail, and the crowds grew almost exponentially, a mix of climbers and tourists who didn’t even look prepared to hike. I sauntered past Mesa Verde wall and Spiderman Buttress to the notch where climbers cross the rocky ridge in a shortcut which bypasses a mile of trail where the river does a sharp bend, cliffs soaring above it. Scrambling over Asterisk Pass never bothered me when I was in my twenties, but now, years later, I had to hesitate before climbing over it. It is not for everyone. Once I crossed, I was looking at the heart of the Smith, the other crags that made it famous: the Christian Brothers, the Dihedrals, and Morning Glory Wall. Climbers were everywhere. I’d never seen such crowds. Call it sour grapes, but it took away a little bit of the mystique the place used to hold for me. Okay, not much. I had seen way too many cool things in a a few hours. But don’t listen to me. Just ask the climbers. Or the geese.
Even if I can’t do all the same things I did twenty years ago, Smith is an awesome place to visit. I recommend it to any Pacific Northwest visitors who love the outdoors. Get there early if the weather is nice, or plan on parking far away. I hope I’ll return soon.