Category Archives: Flora and Fauna

Youngs Creek Bottomland

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It is not often one gets to walk on flat ground in the Columbia River Gorge. For an area with a wide river and mostly minor mountains, there’s few hikes without healthy elevation gain.  For those of you keeping score, that’s what makes it a National Scenic Area.  That and the countless classic waterfalls.  Sometimes, however, flat ground is the best spot of all from which to appreciate high ground.

Rooster Rock State Park has a hidden side, reached best from the east bound exit ramp from Highway 84.  A short access road drops down near Mirror Lake to a tiny parking area.  An obvious track leads east over mostly flat ground through a deciduous forest toward open land that does indeed offer great views of the surrounding hills.  The walking is easy for the first mile and a half.  After that, the land gets more brushy, and I had to exercise care to avoid thorns and stickers which seemed to possess varying levels of malice.  I still got some nice scratches on my calves.  Waaah.

The end goal of the Youngs Creek hike is a bridge over the modest creek.  I wandered around the area for a while, trying to get a glimpse of waterfalls above.  I could not, although I could see Angel’s Rest in the distance as well as numerous nearby cliffs before I plunked my pack down on the bridge and contemplated the noises of the sunlit world.  The highway is near to the north, and the railroad is just below the flanks of the hills to the south.  Yet I felt very serene in this so called bottomland, which would certainly look rather different in winter or early spring.  Today, however, it was a dry, yellowing land.   The forested areas felt very different, with tall grasses and bushes pushing into the shaded track.   Another good one in the books.

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There was magical light in this patch of forest, a fitting end to my afternoon

 

 

 

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.

 

History and the View at Canemah Bluff

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Looking down at the mighty Willamette

 

In a shocking development, I went for a walk last Sunday.  The weather was iffy, so I stayed close to home, and I was able to find another pleasant place to leg stretch close to the city.  Canemah Bluff is located above the Willamette River at the south end of Oregon City.  In the 19th century, pioneers settled there and established their own community, which predicated its economy on people who necessarily portaged around nearby Willamette Falls as they headed up or down the Willamette. The town was eventually annexed by Oregon City in the 1920s.  It is still a lovely area, and the Children’s Park (no, I didn’t go down the slide) is a great place to start a walk.  A small network of trails offers a few different options depending on your ambition and interest. Like Mount Talbert and Powell Butte, they have nice signage and mini maps on posts at junctions.

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One of the things about this area is that, historically, Native Americans conducted annual controlled burns, and this affected biodiversity.  Unlike many areas in Northwest Oregon, the bluffs here offer broad wildflower meadows lined lots of oaks and madrone trees, as well as alder and cedar forested areas further uphill.

The walking was easy, and I found myself marveling at the great colors all around.  Bright wildflowers abounded in the open areas, but the most amazing hues of all (and this on a gray day) were on the madrone trunks.  In a couple photos, they seemed to almost glow a rusty color.  Eventually, I caught a glimpse of a pioneer cemetery, then headed uphill on the Old Slide Trail.  They were very pleasant woods to amble about.  On that segment of  trail, I found myself falling into arty photography, noticing the symmetry in a certain fern’s fronds, a stand of deciduous trees, even the perfectly placed bee in the center of a flower. I have found that taking a great photo gives me a great deal of pleasure, but there is nothing like a good walk.  Happy hiking, everyone.

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Observation Peak the Long Way

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Great view of Mt. St. Helens

 

The guidebook suggested that the Trapper Creek Wilderness was undiscovered, a hidden gem.   I suppose it was right, but after a 13 mile hike with a deceptive amount of elevation gain, l was focused on my sore legs, worried that I would barely be able to walk the following day.  As it happened, some stretching, anti-inflammatories, and a decent night’s sleep helped me get through it.  Then I looked back and appreciated where I had been and what I had seen. Trapper Creek is a really nice wilderness, not far from the Portland metro area.  It has a gorgeous stream, at least one stunning waterfall, rugged ridges, tremendous old growth and other unique flora, and one stellar summit with views of five volcanoes.  And that’s just one hike.

I began by heading up the Trapper Creek drainage . The trail is not always streamside, but the forest is very pleasant.  I wanted to do the big loop, as it’s known, but in a less popular direction. The loop offers a chance to gradually climb a canyon, or scale a series of forested ridges, either way ending with a spur trail hike to Observation Peak.  By heading up a steep path to the ridge trail, I thought I might save a little time.  The Big Slide Trail is a rugged, intermittently maintained path.  It was still relatively easy to follow, but it was steep in spots, and there was one spot where the direction was counter-intuitive. Once I reached the Observation Trail, the slope mellowed out a bit, never getting close to steep again on the climb.

Views of mountains appeared through the trees. First, the nearby Soda Peaks, and later, the white bulk of Mount Adams to the east.  Once I reached the junction with the summit spur trail, I started feeling pretty good.  Proximity to a peak always gives me a little more pep in the step.  So it was in this case, and this summit was worth the hike.  Vistas in almost all directions were spectacular. It was the end of May, yet Mounts Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier, along with the Goat Rocks, still showed plenty of snow.  A few other hikers came and went while I soaked in the views, snacked, hydrated, and rested.  One couple planned on camping on the summit.  I was a bit jealous even as I knew I would never camp right there.  The descent would require at least three hours, and I was heading into unknown territory, so when a few more groups reached the summit, I decided it was time to go.

Interestingly, once I crossed over and reached the top of the Trapper Creek Trail, I saw only one other person.  Later, I discovered there are shorter routes to Observation Peak.  That explains the modest crowds up there. Oh well.  I needed the exercise, and exercise I got.  The Trapper Creek Trail descends gradually for a long time, eventually crossing a gorgeous creek with deep pools.  The path then gets steeper, the tread barely there at times as it shuffles down the canyon wall.  There was a sign at one point saying no horses allowed, as the path was too narrow.  And so it was. One big reward came with a view of a waterfall across the canyon.

Once I got reached the bottom of the canyon, I just wanted to be back at the car.  This section of the trail was not that scenic, and the trail actually climbed quite a bit over rolling terrain.  Then I reached creekside and thought I was done climbing.  Ha ha.  Fooled you.   The Deer Creek cutoff was supposed to be a shortcut.  Having already hiked ten miles, I found it difficult to get psyched for the short steep climbs.  There were a few gorgeous spots on the cutoff, including the creek crossing.  My pace slowed.  I’m too old for this, I remember thinking.  Once I passed the turn to the Big Slide Trail, I was in familiar territory.  I plodded onward, and found myself happy to reach my ride.

Mist and Mud at Abiqua Falls

AB8My 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.

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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.

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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.

 

Siouxon Rhymes with Tucson

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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.

 

 

Gorge’s Greatest Hits: The Oregon Side

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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.

 

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?