Meeting Mr. Heron

This morning the wife and I took a casual stroll along the riverbank with our pup.  While I was gawking at an osprey way up in a tree, I didn’t see the Great Blue Heron standing in the mouth of the creek.  We are lucky to have lots of both birds in our area.  The heron, I learned, weighs less than ten pounds despite a massive frame.  Apparently this is due to hollow bones, like all birds.  And it if looks slow, don’t tell the fish. It strikes fast when it’s going for food.  I was able to get fairly close before the bird spooked, doing a graceful flight out over the river, then a return swing up the creek drainage.  Quite a treat for a Sunday morning stroll.

That's Mr. Heron to you...

That’s Mr. Heron to you…

Aqueous Veil of the Bride

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls

Ho hum, another waterfall run.   The Bridalveil exit off Highway 84 eastbound signals the beginning of the Columbia River Gorge.  It offers immediate access to the old highway and a high density of mountain and waterfall hikes.   Bridalveil Falls had escaped my attention until recently.  A short downhill hike takes one to a viewpoint of the falls pouring into a pretty little canyon and a babbling stream.  For some reason, I only took a few similar photos.  Oh well.  Nice spot.

Back at the trailhead, a mostly paved path leads to bluffs overlooking the Columbia River.   I realized I’d seen the railings on the these bluffs from the highway, but never knew how to access them.  Now I know.

Multiple layers of lava rock: Washington

Multiple layers of lava rock: Washington

For some reason, I took a lot more photos on this casual walk than when I saw the waterfall.  Across the river, there is a cool perspective on the volcanic layer cake of the Washington side.  It’s funny to realize a railroad and highway are squeezed in there.

Just one of many moss covered promontories

Just one of many moss covered promontories

Great views are in abundance, especially to the west, with Sand Island in the river and Crown Point looming in the background.   Both of those spots I had seen recently from a different perspective on my Rooster Rock venture.  This was a nice visual cross reference.

Sand Island in the Columbia

Sand Island in the Columbia

The views are more open than most in the Gorge, and with little effort expended, so that was a treat.  An origami mobile hanging from a tree at one viewpoint prompted curiosity.    Who would have gone to such efforts and why?

Oregon origami, oh my!

Oregon origami, oh my!

Both paths at Bridalveil offer great walks for those who don’t want to put forth a great deal of effort, yet still want some great views.  For an introduction to the west end of the Gorge, one could hardly do better.

Misty Falls Mountain Scramble

A geologic epoch layer cake

A geologic epoch layer cake

The Columbia Gorge seems to have enough gorgeous waterfalls to satisfy any aquaphile.  I keep finding new ones, and this week was no exception as I visited two new falls for me, including one not too many folks approach: Mist Falls.  It’s not far from the tourist destination of Multnomah Falls, and it’s one of the highest falls in Oregon, yet there is no official trail climbing there.   The trailhead is little more than a short pullout just west of Wahkeena Falls.  A minute up the trail, where it still feels like a trail, one comes to the brink of a creek. Across the creek is a stone chimney, the last remnant of the aged Multnomah Lodge.

From there, what passes for a trail is really more of what I would call a talus thrash.  The slope is steep and the footing is anything but solid.  It would have been a good place for trekking poles, but knowing it was relatively short, I wasn’t worried.  IN fact, in less than ten minutes, I came around a moss encrusted rocky shoulder and got my first glimpse of the falls.  There has been very little precipitation in Western Oregon for a coupe months, so I was hardly surprised to see the falls looking rather thin. The water drops in two stages, the first a long dramatic and misty airborne plunge from a cliff, the second a lower angled cascade in the center of a broad rocky bowl.

I scrabbled up a steep shoulder on the left side of the falls where I was able to look back and see a bit of the Gorge but not as much as I’d hoped.  The depth of the falls was clearly visible here, as were some of the geologic layers, columnar basalt wedged between more chaotic forms of erstwhile lava. The bowl itself was dramatic and looked ripe for exploration with the right equipment.  A dark inset to the right of the falls was particularly intriguing to me, but the rock was steep enough that I didn’t want to venture up there solo without more preparation.  If it’s a cave with Neolithic paintings or pottery fragments, their discovery will have to wait for another day.

Cave trek, anyone?

Cave trek, anyone?

The hike up to Mist Falls was short but challenging, and the little amphitheater was well worth exploring.  This is good adventurous trek to appease adrenaline junkies bored by casual looks at roadside falls.  While not for inexperienced hikers, mountain goats would surely love this hike.

Marquam Nature Park in the Heat

I’ve been here before.  We’ve all been here before.  Running out of new spots nearby, I revisited an old track and tried to focus differently, to see new pleasures in familiar spaces.  The dry conditions certainly did their part to give me a different perspective.  Marquam Nature Park is a sizeable greenspace in the hills of Southwest Portland, and I find it a great unsung spot to head outdoors.

As documented on this site, I have hiked from the part to the heights of Council Crest multiple times, but as it was quite warm this go around, I decided to make a loop lower in the trees, expending modest amounts of energy.  It was a pleasant way to spend forty five minutes.  I was surprised to see leaves already changing color, as well as creek beds completely dry.  For a Sunday, few people seemed to be out compared to the crowds I’d seen recently at the Arboretum or in Forest Park.   It’s nice to hike on a sunny day, and I know it’s August, but I hope we get some real precipitation soon.  It’s disconcerting to see our world seemingly drying up.  This too shall pass.  It better.

Fernando, Fatigue, and Glacier Gawking


I stayed up way past my bedtime Saturday night.  That’s okay, it was in support of the great Fernando Viciconte and his band of merry men rocking their way through the night.  He has an album coming out later this month featuring heavy hitters like Peter Buck of REM.  You should check it out if you like rootsy rock with a twist.  He happens to be one of the nicest guys  I know too.

So that’s why I was tuckered on Sunday, and my hiking ambitions started to lag. I can be pretty lazy if I allow doubts to linger.  The forecast called for more heat.  Bagging a peak would be nice, but nothing within a 90 minute drive sounded appealing.   I decided to fall back on an old standby and headed to Timberline Lodge, which was having its last day of summer skiing–actually early for them due to the unusual heat.

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I had no particular plan, but ended up choosing to ad lib an adventure along the upper reaches of White River Canyon.  The entire area is above treeline, so navigation is both easy and difficult.  I started going straight up a ski lift acess road, which was a mistake in that I was now far from the trail I wanted to be on.  So I sidehilled across multiple small drainages, finding the last remants of natural snow, mostly buried beneath a coat of dirt, presumably windblown.

Strange piles of dirt in the bottom of the drainages that seemed to have been the subject of violence.  Large cracks crossed the deep brown soil.  I surmised it might be from soil once blown atop snow which later melted, undermining the dirt, creating the cracks. Just a theory, and probably not a very good one.

The weather was not terrific, with rain falling briefly and winds buffeting me almost constantly.  Still,  the temperature was comfortable once I’d donned a shell.   I climbed slowly, and was slightly depressed when a younger man toting a couple ice axes passed me.   By the time I turned around, I was probably lose to 8000 feet, and as a lowland dweller now, the altitude taxed me more than it used to.

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Skiers and snowboarders were enjoying their last turns for a while.  I watched them for a while, but ultimately found White River Glacier and White River Canyon more fascinating.  My descent was easier than the climb, although I was reflecting on the unique dynamic of hiking in wild environs not far from a ski lift.   I was a speck on the horizon to them, but they were omnipresent to me.   Had I ventured to a similar alpine area on any other side of the mountain, it would be an all day affair rather than the few hours I spent above Timberline.  That’s the trade off.

I had lots of ashy soil to pour out of my boots when I was done, and I was glad to get back to a place where the water actually looked clear.


Lazy Walking the Hoyt Arboretum

I am behind on my posts.  Oh well. Today I had a nice hike in the high country, but let me start by looking back to my last jaunt.   I have blogged about the Hoyt Arboretum before, which I grew up calling the “Arbo”.  It is notable mostly for the massive array of tree and plant species from around the world–over 2000 species are represented here.   I love finding trees from Scotland and Kamchatka in close proximity.  Many trails crisscross the hilly acreage in southwest Portland, but a road is always relatively close.

On this visit, I decided to simply wander back and forth.  I started on the Creek Trail, used a connector trail to cross over a road to find the White Pine and Bristlecone Pine trails, then veered off on the Fir Trail, where I passed a bamboo festival in the big shelter just below one of the main parking areas.  Ultimately I zigzagged on the Spruce Trail, Redwood Trail, and the mighty Wildwood Trail.  It made for a nice sinuous back and forth, frequently getting different perspectives on locations from the second trail.  I stopped at many benches in the area and read from Alan Lightman’s fascinating novel, Einstein’s Dreams.  Forcing myself to frequently stop (I probably sat at ten benches), made me slow down and be more aware of my surroundings.  I also read about 70 pages–the book goes quickly.  It was an enjoyable exercise.  Tune in next time for a report on adventures in Mt. Hood’s alpine tundra.

Rooster Rock and Points East

The state park's namesake

The state park’s namesake

Rooster Rock State Park is named for a volcanic plug with an easy if not highly desirable climbing route up its south side. The climb is a standard venture for beginners, which I first did when I was 15 or so. The area may be more famous to Portland residents as the site of a “clothing optional” beach.  But enough about that (awkward!)  I ventured there yesterday not to re-live teenage climbing glory, nor to investigate the nude beach, but to wander the low ridge to the east.  It seemed a perfect barrier between river and highway with potential views of both water and nearby peaks. I wasn’t entirely wrong, but the best part of the trip was walking along the mighty Columbia and eying the ramparts of its famous gorge.

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My stalwart companion Jackie Chan and I hiked east from the parking lot and found ourselves walking along a crazy disc golf course in the woods. It looked very difficult through the trees.  The trail stayed more or less level above the riverbank, but eventually dropped down after a mile or so and we emerged into a long meadow. Soon we arrived at the riverbank.  A family with young kids was playing in the water nearby.  We continued east for solitiude, meandering among sandy spots, grasses, and patches of forest.  Eventually the trail disappeared, and I reached a point where it got very rocky and narrow, so we turned back after checking out the avian wildlife on Sand Island.

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We climbed up a washout spot into a broad meadow, and I found an obvious trail up the edge of it into the forest above.  The forest was pleasant although the highway noise detracted a bit from my enjoyment.  At one point, for half a mile or so, I noticed a lot of horsetails and I found that interesting, as we were on a ridge.  I had thought of them as being confined to swampy areas.  Apparently not.  In a little over an hour total, I was back at my car. This is not a strenuous hike, but it was just the ticket for us on this weekday.  Afterwards, I drove west for a closer look at Rooster Rock itself and its big brother, the much more impressive Crown Point on the south side of the highway–another teenage climbing memory. Today I am content with a hike in the vicinity.

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point

Looking up from the parking lot at Crown Point

Pacific Crest Trail Tease


I have intermittently dreamed about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail since I read Eric Ryback’s book about the trail when I was in high school.  Naturally, life has taken random twists and turns, I’ve done a lot other cool things, from climbing cliffs and bungee jumping to getting married on a mountain to becoming a firefighter and publishing my writing.  At my age, I’m not sure I can press pause on my life for five months it would require.  Perhaps one day…  Here is a tease I stumbled on today in which a hiker took a second-long video every day on the journey, which is compressed to a three-minute video.  I’ve seen another version of this, where a man took a selfie every mile on the trail.  It was interesting to see his face change, but I wanted to see the scenery more.  This clip does that. Enjoy–especially those of you about to embark on the trail.  If you can’t follow my link (and sorry about the ad), here’s the full URL:

Cook Park and the Tualatin River

Just yesterday, I heard about a Postal Service picnic which would include an epic softball battle between area stations.  Unfortunately, I had other plans, but I when I was done I tried to check out the picnic.  Too late. Luckily, Cook Park is a good destination for more than softball watching. The park, located in Tigard, Oregon, has frontage on the Tualatin River in addition to numerous ball fields and picnic shelters.  There are some paved paths as well as what the map called “soft trails”.  As in dirt trails.  Okayyyy.   I wandered away from the parking lot and picnic areas and soon found such a soft trail.  The forest was fairly typical for our area.   Cedars and Doug firs and alders.  I saw light in the canopy and realized we were beside the river.  A kayaker was floating downstream, yelling at some friends.  Tree branches dipped low by the water.   It was an enticing spot which instantly made me think of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, up to some boyhood daredevilry, climbing, swinging, and diving into the cool water at last.

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Upstream a little, I found my way up a small rise and realized I’d come upon the boat launch.  Nice.  Apparently, the park rents kayaks here.  People were sprawled on the grass, in the shade, while others were boating.  This grassy area seemed a great spot to spend a hot Sunday afternoon.  I continued walking, following my instincts along a paved path into the woods, which led back to the ball field area where I spied my car.  Cook Park looks like a great place to revisit some time, perhaps with a ball game followed by kayaking or fishing, or just some Tom-and-Huck fun in the water.

Bucket List Hike Daydreaming

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood.  Not bad.

Above McNeil Point on Mt. Hood. Not bad.

I haven’t had any epic trips in a while.  The image above is a year old now. But this morning I stumbled on an image of a spot in Norway, and I was reminded what gorgeous scenery surrounds the fjords.  I want to go there!  I’d also love to hike in the Dolomites, climbing a peak or two the easy way. Before that, I should probably hit my family’s ancestral homeland in Scotland.  Ben Nevis, here I come!  Ah, but I’m only dreaming.  If money were no consideration, where would you like to hike?


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