Category Archives: Family

Alaska’s Savage Alpine Trail

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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.

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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.

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The river was more beautiful than savage

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

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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.

Family Fun on Flume Knob

When earlier this year a cousin did a short post about Flume Knob in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, my curiosity was piqued.  It is far from a major peak, but it offers great views for a modest effort.  What’s not to like? So when my wife and I returned to the Empire State for a mini family reunion last week, Flume Knob was on my mind.

The Adirondacks are a huge area.  The mountains are not high, but they make up for that in ruggedness.  Any given trail will feature rocks and roots and varying degrees of steep factor. Some are fairly brutal.  (I’m looking at you, south side of Haystack!) Flume Knob is on the easier side of the difficulty continuum.

The namesake of the peak is a rocky narrows of the West Fork of the Ausable River.  I was impressed with that before we’d set foot on the trail.  The beginning of the trail, meandering through the Wilmington Wild Forest, barely climbed at all.  It was crossed by mountain biking loops at regular intervals, though we saw no bikes.  The quiet woods and easy grade made it easy to chat.  Then the trail got more serious, and we climbed over rock and log, and up steep root-seamed dirt, to multiple false summits.  Occasional ledges offered sunny views of the green blanketed valley and distant rocky peaks and let us catch our breath.

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Eventually we all made it to the rocky nub of a summit, in the shadow of mighty Whiteface Mountain, two time site of the Winter Olympic skiing.   Lunch, talk, bees, and photos were the order of the moment.  Smiles came easily, and I took what was perhaps the sweetest mother-daughter shot I’ve ever taken.

We lolled about on top for a while, enjoying the sun.   It was hard to leave the view, but we did, and walked down with care over the steep pitches. Back at the bottom, we looked at the namesake flume from the bridge on Route 86.  The river shoots through an impressive rocky slot, below which is a popular swimming hole.  If you can avoid the flying critters (a yellow jacket on top wanted my sandwich), the Adirondacks offer a wealth of outdoor pleasures.

 

Dungeness Spit

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The spit arcs across the whole frame and out of sight.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.