Herman Creek Pinnacles

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A volcanic spaceship emerging from below ground?

 

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.

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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.

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Pacific Crest Falls

 

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.

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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.

A Two-fer Walk Afternoon

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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.

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Hmm.  Maybe after dinner I could walk along the river….

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Can you spy the little goslings right behind Mama?

Cannon Beach in the Springtime

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Looking south from Tolovana Beach

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.

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Calling Thailand, are you out there?

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.

Hiding from Rain in the Rocks

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Bend Trip Part Two: Smith Rock

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The drier side of Oregon

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.

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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.

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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.

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A few Canada Geese perched on rocks as if guarding the area

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Looking down from Asterisk Pass after I’d crossed back over.  

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.

 

Bend Trip Part One

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A place to walk, fish, kayak, or simply relax.

Years ago, I spent two stints in Bend, Oregon.  Although the town has changed a lot, the region holds a place in my heart, from Smith Rock State Park to the Deschutes River and to the Three Sisters Wilderness and Mount Bachelor.  So it was great to visit there last weekend, taking a few hikes, visiting family, and relaxing.  I had one fantastic hike at Smith Rock, and that night took a spontaneous night hike with my nephew, scaling Pilot Butte to see the lights of the small city.  There’s so much I could include!  For now, I will touch on the walks we took along the Deschutes River north of town.

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Access to the river trail is easy, and the walking is pleasing if not challenging.  It’s perfect for runners, and I notice a few bike tracks, too.  The landscape is dotted with sagebrush, junipers, ponderosa pines, and lots of rock. I found a few basaltic crags worthy of scrambling, and I have no doubt that there is much more to explore nearby.  This is still a magical area.

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Denise and Jackie Chan from atop a tiny crag

Man’s Best Friend and a Murder of Crows

Today I had to get out of the house, and I was lucky enough to hike with Jackie Chan.  We visited Elk Rock Island, as I had the other day, but the weather was very different.  It was dry but gray and cool. I found a new spot to scramble on mossy rocks that’s out of the way.  Jackie was pretty excited about a sandy spot among the rocks, but he was content sniffing everything in the woods, too, including some very cool small ferns.  Unfortunately, his mere presence seemed to spook some crows as I was trying to get a better shot of a large group of them.  Does any reader know why it’s called a murder of crows?  Enjoy the photos.

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Seasonal Treasures on Elk Rock

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Not bad for five minutes from home

 

I have written of Elk Rock Island in previous posts, but I hadn’t been there in months.  Spring Park, the access point, was closed for some time for maintenance. Today I found out what that meant when I zipped over there after the first half of the Trailblazers game.  North Clackamas Parks & Rec crews completely resituated the access and revamping it so it will not bog down in mud, and the grade is improved. They put in a bridge over a little boggy area and a resting spot over a side channel.  Nice work.

Walking on Elk Rock Island is neither epic nor exotic. Yet it is a small natural oasis Portland area residents should treasure.  I know I do.  My experience today was very different than my previous hikes here. With winter rains collecting in spots that are bone dry in summer, and water level high enough to cover part of the north side beach, the overall feel of the island was very different.  That is not a bad thing. The light on the now mossy, grassy rocks on the south and west sides was amazing.  Without leaves on the cottonwoods, the forest high on the bluff was much different, with sneak views in various directions.  The beach area was gloomy in the shade, so I didn’t dally there. By the time I circled the island, the light was already shifting, but the views were still great. Something about the water made me look forward to getting out in a kayak when it warms up more.  Happy outdoor adventures, everyone.

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The foreground makes me think of the U.K

Powerlines in Reverse

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Magical light

 

A couple years ago I did the powerlines hike in Forest Park, making a loop in conjunction with Newton Road, the BPA Road, and the Wildwood Trail.  That time went counterclockwise on the loop park, descending Newton Road first, then doing the climb up the BPA powerlines road.  Today I flipped the script and went clockwise, figuring I might get better views that way as  I descended the powerline road.  It was a bit muddy, but a fine hike if you don’t mind the namesake electrical lines overhead for a mile.  It’s a treat to be able to see three Cascade volcanoes in one view.  Ironically, because the view is skewed north, you can’t see the nearby Mount Hood.  Instead, Mounts St. Helens, Adams, and Rainier dominate the view across the Columbia.

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Looking across North Portland toward St. Helens and beyond

 

I also found numerous tiny treasures in the woods as I walked along the muddy paths, through sunsplashed woods.  The trails were relatively deserted.  I walked about 6.6 miles, and I saw only six people, which isn’t too bad given the location of the trails. Not everybody wants to walk along powerlines, but the views are nice, and the climb back up Newton Road is a solid workout.

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I loved this massive, open stump

Fire Lane Hiking

It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I’m waiting for the game with hours to kill.  The weather is spectacular for February in Cascadia.  Must be time for a hike!  I have been fairly lazy about getting my hiking fixes lately, focusing more on other writing and creative endeavors (follow me on Instagram) but I was happy to hit Forest Park today with my canine pal, Jackie Chan.  The parking areas on Germantown Road were packed, which is normal on a weekend, especially when the weather is nice.   I parked on the shoulder and headed down a nearby fire lane.  People flock to the Wildwood Trail, but there is a lot more solitude on most Fire Lanes in Forest Park.  Fire Lane 10 dives down the side of a canyon, crossing a nice little creek.  Everything is green, which is more spectacular when the mossy edge of a tree limb are backlit.

Beyond the creek, there is some work to do. The fire lane climbs to the Linnton Trail, where I started seeing other hikers or runners.  The Linnton Trial is not too steep, but it’s all uphill for about a mile until it meets the Wildwood Trail.  From there I could meander back towards Germantown Road and my car.  Now I’m ready for the game.  Go Broncos!

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