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!

Snow Stroll in the Hood

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A tiny island in the Sandy River

On Sunday, I returned to my old stomping grounds at the foot of Mt. Hood with bittersweet feelings.  First, I attended a celebration of life for a long time community volunteer and fine man.  I was able to visit many of my former fire department brethren.  Then it was time to go.  I had no plan, but wanted a walk in the woods knowing there would be snow nearby. Less than two miles up Lolo Pass road, snow was starting to pile up on the side of the road.  Hmm.  Could be interesting, I thought, especially without four wheel drive.   I pieced a pullout near the Sandy River and tromped through the woods.  There was no goal but to get in touch with nature.  It felt good.  Just what I needed.

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Gallivanting in the Columbia Gorge

DSCN4012As I have attempted to demonstrate in previous posts, the Columbia River Gorge is a pretty awesome place to play in the outdoors.  Today I took a tour of the Washington side with my wife and our faithful pup.  We began at the lower end of the Cape Horn area, where we walked through fern and moss draped trees to eyeball a beautiful cascade right below the rock and mortar protected outlook.  Good start.

After meandering past further road views from the Cape Horn area, we stopped at the St. Cloud recreational site, a pleasant surprise set in an old orchard on the bank of the Columbia River.   We walked through the orchard and down to the water for some close up views of the famous river.  Such views!

As we left, Jackie trotted by a great old log that seemed to me to have a leonine face on its end.   Soon, we drove by the famous Beacon Rock but didn’t dally long, then paused briefly at an historic marker pullout which referred to the Lewis and Clark expedition coming through the area.  A landslide 500 years ago came down from the area near Table Mountain and dumped debris in the river here. The spot also offered a unique view of Cascade Locks, where Cheryl Strayed ended her PCT hike (shameless attempt for search hits), and I was disappointed to learn that Char Burger is no more.

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Through the trees and across the Columbia at a narrow spot to Cascade Locks

Stevenson was next on the agenda.  This is a cute small town on its way to being a real destination.  It has good restaurants, a brewpub, some cute shops, and lots of waterfront.   Retirement spot, anyone?   Following Denise’s good instincts, we headed for the waterfront, and wandered by a restaurant and walked down a trail below a lodge.  Nice place to visit.  If only we had some spare cash for real estate investments…

 

When we left Stevenson I briefly contemplated a hike up Wind Mountain, but thought better of it.  Too chilly.   Go east, (not so) young man!  Coyote Wall was calling me.  So we headed to the area popular with mountain bikers and hikers alike.  The start may have been the best part in more ways than one.   The old road was easy walking, and within five minutes saw two bald eagles relaxing on a snag.  It was the best view I’ve ever had of an eagle.

Once we ventured off the road onto a rocky muddy trail, the landscape changed a lot.  The hills undulate, and there are cool rock formations.  I was slightly surprised that the area was quite green, but it is January.  The temperature plunged as cloud cover came in, and we decided to turn back, since we still had a long drive home.   It was a great day of walking and sightseeing with the fam.

 

 

 

Afternoon Arboretum Ambling

 

Peaceful little meadow above the Vietnam Memorial

Peaceful little meadow above the Vietnam Memorial

A few days ago, the wife and I had an nice chilly walk in Hoyt Arboretum.  Snow was in the forecast, and she wanted to go to one of the higher spots in the metro area to see it.  The white stuff amounted to little more than sky dandruff, yet we enjoyed walking on the Wildwood, Hawthorn, and Maple trails.  I enjoyed learning about a few more species of tree.  Amur maples.  Who knew?   Plenty of people walk around the arboretum, yet it is always a serene and lovely spot.

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The horizontal reach of these branches on a species of cherry (?) was impressive.

Sunday Stroll on the Springwater Corridor

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Mallards having a good time on muddy Johnson Creek

I’ve written about the Springwater Corridor Trail before for a good reason.  It’s convenient, it boasts some nice scenery, and it’s an easy outdoor fix.  Today Jackie Chan and I walked a stretch just beyond our normal haunts.  To be sure, it’s not as pretty an environment, with industrial buildings nearby, but I was entranced early by ducks below a bridge over Johnson Creek, and then by an electrical tower getting taken over by vines.

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The sign warns of high voltage. Plant life does not care.

There were not too many bikers or joggers today.  It was cool but not cold.  Perhaps they were gearing up for parties for the MLS Cup (Go Timbers!) or NFL games (the Eagles leading the Patriots?).   Perhaps it was the location in the open, near businesses and houses.  Still, there were pretty spots.  Jack sniffed like a madman as we walked.

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This is strictly an out and back walk, unless you want to have a shuttle 15 or 20 miles away in Boring, where the trail ends.  We opted to turn around at a side street crossing the path. Two pups were coming in on the side street, and a bigger dog was headed toward us.  U turn.  It was far enough.  We took one last stop at a trailside bench.  Jack might have wondered why I didn’t sit there myself.  Perhaps when the place dries out a bit. Happy Sunday.

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The Low Road to Cape Horn

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Sometimes a Cigar Rock is just a Cigar Rock

There was some wind, and some walking.  More wind and more walking.  Did I mention wind?  It was quite the day on the Cape Horn trail.  Continuing in the recent vein of not letting the weather stop me, I picked one of the closest spots in the Gorge for a jaunt.  I’d been atop Cape Horn before, as documented on this site, but I’d never completed the loop.  Doing so became the goal for the day.  Of course that was before I go out of my warm car and realized just how windy the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge was.

The temperature was probably in the high thirties or low forties, but the constant winds made the windchill well below freezing at times.  Once I was on the actual trail, the views got fairly spectacular in a hurry.

I seemed to be the only human who opted to take the clockwise approach to the Cape Horn trail loop.  This is a popular spot, but the lower half seems shamefully under-hiked.  Finally I set out to hike this section, thanks to two underpasses and a road on which I walked without seeing vehicles for 1.3 miles, farmland beside me, and the cliffs and ridges of the Cape high above.  I had stashed extra warm layers in my pack.  In less than ten minutes, I had to pull out the gloves.

The topological and aesthetic surprises kept coming.  I have always been of the mindset to head to high ground for the best adventure, but in this case, it was almost the opposite.  The high ground on Cape Horn offers a few nice viewpoints, along with open fields, but the most unique features were on the lower section, close to the river, with up close and personal views of the cliffs from below, along with stunning Gorge views.  In addition , there was more of a wilderness feeling at the lower elevations.   Eventually, of course I had to start climbing.  This began gradually and then started in earnest with switchbacks.  I kept thinking I must be close to the highway, but it took longer than expected.  I got a few nice sights in right before that with another stellar viewpoint, a small waterfall, and lovely brook.

After the trail  ducks back under the highway, it starts climbing a ridge.  Suddenly there is an oddly-built shack beside the trail, as if it were a homeless camp or hunters hideaway.  Strange.  The path continues uphill at a mild grade through attractive woods.  In half a mile or so, after a significant amount of elevation has been gained, there is another spectacular viewpoint.  A quartet of bundle up hikers hunkered below a gray masonry wall to avoid the vicious wind.  I took in the expansive views of the Gorge behind them, snapped a couple photos, then continued walking.  It was no place to dawdle.  Not today.

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Away from the gorge rim, the open land is gently sloping.  A few homes are visible.  The trail crosses a field, then hops a road and heads back into the woods.  I started seeing lots of hikers and a few runners too. The numbers surprised me a little bit.  Either I’m a bit wimpier than I thought, or other people are a little tougher than I thought.  Both?  With the exception of a quick photo op at the Fallen Tree Viewpoint, I boogied on down the trail, raising an eyebrow at runners in shorts, one of whom had music blaring from his backpack.  I didn’t care for that (artificially flavored pop), but at least it warned me he was coming.  All told, I hiked almost 7.5 miles, saw many stupendous views, and fully enjoyed a chilly half day in the gateway to the Columbia River Gorge.

 

 

Strolling Around Mount Talbert

After meeting a friend for a yummy lunch at Mehri’s Bakery and Deli the other day, my wife and I went for hike at a small wilderness park near Clackamas.  What started as a brief nature walk turned into a real hike on an overcast day.  We just kept going, creating a nice loop I’d done in reverse before.  One curious note was the white powder we saw at regular intervals on the switchbacks climbing out of the parking area.  I was careful not to let our pup sniff it.  Terrorism!  Anthrax!  Poison!  My mind goes into overdrive with worry on occasion. At the first major junction, a giant X and an arrow showed the powder was simply marking the way for a race or organized walk/run.  Relief ensued, and we enjoyed our paces through a pretty mixed forest.  The so called summit was a tease, with no significant views.

On the way down, we saw a deer but weren’t quick enough to get a decent shot.  One trailside tree seemed to have its own little watering trough.  Ferns grew on tree branches. Crazy foliage.  Light was fading fast as we returned to the trailhead.  I have to admit that I can’t wait for the days to start getting longer.  On this day of giving thanks, however, I am thankful for many things, among them the personal health and opportunity to take a hike with my bride.   I hope my readers also have reason for gratitude.

 

Finding the Rock of Ages

Looking east

Looking eastbound and down…

 

To heck with waiting for sunny skies.  It was time to climb.  So it was that I headed out the gorge last weekend, rain gear in tow.  I headed for a trail that is slightly off the radar for most hikers.  The Rock of Ages trail is unofficial.  It veers off of the Horsetail Falls trail just before Ponytail Falls, a nice hike I’ve documented in this cyberspace before.  What I couldn’t decide was how far to hike.  The views would come relatively early, but the trail continues for miles.  Because it is unmaintained, some of the route is a bit rough.  It felt steep and slick, with poor footing on occasion.  Of course, the ground and foliage were wet.  Under dry conditions, footing would have been much better.  As it was, I slipped a few times, falling on my backside at least once.   Keeping it interesting.

The route splits a couple times after rising above the top of Ponytail falls.  I took the first unmarked junction and headed for the ridge to the left.  Through the Douglas firs, there were a few nice views, but this was not what I came for.  Onward, upward to the Rock.  I didn’t know what to expect.  I was briefly concerned about my route, but it all worked out.

Rock of Ages is an arch of volcanic rock perched on the rim of a steep forested ridge in the middle of the one of the prettiest areas of the Northwest.  Emerging from the forest, one first sees a sort of steep amphitheater, decked in various hues of green and flecks of gold from the stands of alder and maple far below.   Then there is the arch, large enough to walk through to the cliff’s edge, where hikers can look out over the gorge and the massive Columbia River.  My eyes were drawn along the line of cliffs extending to the east, including St. Peter’s Dome, and across the river, the massive plug of Beacon Rock.  Even on a gray day, the views were amazing.

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After photographs and some philosophical contemplation, I continued upwards.  Shortly I found a rockpile to scramble which gave a new perspective on the area.  More fantastic vistas of rock and river.  From there, I headed into the woods, unsure how far I would get.  The way was not clear at multiple points, and I had to be careful, steep as it was.   One of my trekking poles broke after an especially firm use. It appeared I would then have to traverse a steep slope below a spiny ridge.  I knew the best part of the hike had probably already passed. It was misting steadily, and although I was not uncomfortable, I worried about my footing.  When hiking solo, especially off the beaten path, I try to minimize risks.  I decided to turn back, happy with what I’d already seen, but already planning a return on a drier day.

 

A Haven for Vines

Amazingly, after decades in the Portland area, I can still find new parks and trails.  Not that I’ve hiked everything, but at least I know about most of the trails in the metro area.  Not so in the case of River View Natural Area, located on Highway 43 south of the Sellwood Bridge.  It’s a small oasis of green nestled into the hillside above the highway and below upscale neighborhoods.  I saw the park sign recently and wondered about it. So it was that I decided to take stroll there with Jackie Chan.

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Parking is on the skinny side beside the highway.  The hillside looked relatively open, with no dense groundcover. There were numerous deciduous trees on the hillsides across which the rudimentary trails navigated.  The trees showed off a touch of fall color.  Interestingly, the majority of them close to the highway had vines stick to their trunks or draped from branches.  I could also see where people had hacked at the vines to kill them, presumably in the hopes that the vines would not kill their host trees. The trail was bit muddy in spots, and there were few signs of other hiker or joggers.  In fact, I saw nobody else as my pup and I completed a pleasant loop and returned to the car.  And now I know about the River View Natural Area.

The Springwater Corridor after the Rain

The Springwater Corridor trail is a popular trail for cyclists, runners, walkers, and dogs.  It’s paved, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its beauty.  Since I moved recently, access to the trail is even closer.   It’s just a few minutes away from my digs, so it was an easy choice when there was break in the weather.  Last Saturday, rains last weekend pounded the Portland area, and there was minor flooding that lasted for a day.  On Sunday, Johnson Creek, which runs parallel to the trail for miles of its length, was swollen and brown.

I’d walked and ridden my bike on the trail many times before. This time, as I avoided the many cyclists, I noticed how muddy Johnson Creek was.  No surprise given the rains of the day before.

Compare this to another ph

Compare the water in this last shot to a post from early in 2014.  Nature is always going through cycles, but sometimes it is more impressive than others.

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