Category Archives: Bad weather
Alaska is large. Who knew? It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day. And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way. We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings. It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country. I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short. Alaska is its own world.
The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska. And there’s more. Lots more. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage. Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas. No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience. More to come.
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.
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.
I went to the Grassy Knoll but found no conspiracy theorists in the immediate vicinity. Of course, having to hike more than two miles uphill to this spot in Washington may have winnowed potential wackjobs. This Grassy Knoll has a fantastic view of the Columbia River Gorge as well as a few major mountains. The drive out of Carson is a bit tedious, but the hike is moderate and felt short. There are only a few steep spots.
I encountered only three people as I hiked. I met a woman with her German shepherd at the trailhead. An older couple descended past me in the first mile, close to the first great views, where I looked east toward the base of Mount Adam. The bulk of the massive mountain was cloaked in clouds, but it looked more interesting that way.
The remains of an old lookout tower are still very evident when you arrive atop the broad knoll, where the world seems to fall away beneath you. It was a spectacular spot to sit and ruminate on my place in the world.
The knoll itself is another mile past the clifftop views. It is a great bald area with views in most directions. Looking down at the sinuous Columbia was terrific in the moody light. The wind whipped the alpine grasses, suggesting I should not continue lest I get caught in a cloudburst. On a good day with no clouds or wind, perhaps I would go farther, but not that day.
On the way down the dirt road, I met a motorcyclist who was touring the country on back roads while on a vacation from his work as a military contractor in Afghanistan. We talked for ten minutes. He was well equipped with a beautiful modern Triumph. A pang of jealousy struck, and then I headed home to my wife, a cold beer, and a very comfortable bed.
The forecast online looked good. The actual weather was somewhat less positive as I headed from the Portland metro area west into the Coast Range. Clouds began to dominate the sky. The forest around the Saddle Mountain trailhead was dripping wet, but I had high hopes. Surely this was just a morning fog that would burn off. Or not. No matter; I would hike regardless, since I’d driven over an hour.
http://maps.google.com/maps?daddr=45.90623,-123.745565%20(Saddle%20Mountain%20State%20Natural%20Area)s seven miles off Highway 26 on a road that won’t win any awards for smoothest rides. I remembered coming here as a teen a couple times in conjunction with a trip to the nearby Sitka Spruce which some people claimed was the world’s largest. Good times.
For the first third of the trail, the mixed forest is heavy on the moss, and the beginning is rather steep as it heads toward the Humbug Mountain junction in the first half mile.
A smell of smoke hung in the air; as a former firefighter, I debated whether it might have emanated from anywhere besides the campground. Eventually, the smell dissipated. Paranoia again.
The trail climbed gradually for the most part, the surroundings typical of a western Oregon forest for the most part, until the path started winding around a number of cliffs and sheer, mossy promontories.
I passed a few people, and the higher the elevation, the more people were descending. I was surprised to see that, as it wasn’t even eleven a.m. Some people obviously camped at the park, and others must have come from the beach towns at Cannon Beach or Seaside, significantly closer than Portland. The ubiquitous fog was like a bad haircut. There was nothing you could do about it right now, but it would be okay in time.
I got to various points where spur trails had been stomped out over time, so I knew there must be terrific views. All I could see, however, was foghorn worthy. On paper, Saddle Mountain appears to be the most aesthetic peak in the Oregon Coast Range, but I missed most of the highlights thanks to the fog straight out of a forties noir film.
Still, the geology, the wild flowers, and the popularity of the trail made the ascent interesting, along with the ridiculous chain link mesh wrapped around small rocks underfoot, apparently to prevent erosion. Trail erosion can obviously be an issue, yet so is hiker safety, and this mesh alternated between slick at one moment, and dangerously catchy, so a foot could twist unexpectedly . I slipped twice and almost twisted my ankle once. Not a fan of the mesh, Oregon State Parks.
Railings and cables were frequent, which detracted a bit from the setting, but safety is an issue with the steep open terrain. At least one person has died on Saddle Mountain. The summit was anticlimactic, since the views I knew must be spectacular were obscured by a grayish-white wet blanket, our dear friend, the fog. I sat there on square bench with Jackie for a bit, contemplating life. Life is good.
Jackie barked when another hiker reached the peak in five minutes. That was when I saw the pup shivering, and I realized I was fairly chilly myself. Besides, a bit of actual mist was now falling , so I donned my lightweight rain jacket, and that did the trick.
Another couple arrived on top. Time to go. Many people were heading up as we descended. We had to pull over a lot to let other hikers pass. It’s funny how some people are very appreciative of this sort of gesture, thanking me and commenting on how cute my dog is; others won’t even look at me.
I don’t always like to leash Jackie, but it was necessary for much of the descent, until we were below the slick rock mesh debacle. Below that, we could motor, and near the end, we noticed a giant stump right next to the trail; it’s too bad we don’t see many trees of that size in the 21st century.
While the trip was not what all I’d hoped given the weather, I was still happy to have summited this iconic coastal peak. The fog had made for some interesting photos that made me think I should be meditating. My round trip on a slick trail, going two and a half miles up with 1600 feet of elevation gain, was under three hours. The drive took almost as long as the hike, but I definitely got some exercise. On such a day, the Saddle Mountain trail gets a seven out of ten on the fun meter. In good weather, I think it might approach maximum fun. Crowds might be the only deterrent. So, as the Terminator said, “I’ll be back.”
Life has been hectic, and I haven’t been hiking or posting as much as I’d like. After a few weeks of nice weather, and good timing, luck ran out. The end of the school year is always a tad goofy, and family visiting to celebrate a graduation made our days completely filled for a week or so.
The weather is now entirely disagreeable for outdoor adventures. So I think once again of small recent outdoor moments to savor, but I also must dream big. I greatly admire my fellow blogger Lesley Carter and her dedication to an annual bucket list. I’m not quite sure how she pulls it off, but there’s no time like the present to set my own goals and try to follow suit.
Hence a brief Bucket List:
Climb Mount Rainier. I’ve climbed Mount Hood eight times, but its not the same. I first attempted Rainier as a teenager, but got sick and wimped out. The next year I was in great shape and raring to go, but our group was slow and it was warm. We didn’t trust the snow bridges on the glacier and we turned back.
Hike a long section of the Pacific Crest Trail. I probably first set foot on the PCT when I was 12 or 13, but I have never hiked a long distance on it. I ready Eric Ryback’s book about it when I was in high school. It’s about time I did my own trip.
Raft the Grand Canyon with my family. Whitewater is something I’ve always loved but have rarely indulged in recent years. Next summer, Mom!
Hike the entire Wildwood Trail. This trail in Portland’s Forest Park is dozens of wooded miles long. It’s another path I’ve hiked on since I was very young, but it’s about time I link all the sections.
Revive my harmonica skills. This is the ultimate musical instrument for hiking trips, since it’s pocket sized. It’s time to really learn those scales and play more advanced tunes than “You Are My Sunshine” or a butchered “Scotland the Brave”.
Completing Cycle Oregon. I once thought about riding across the nation, but this seems a bit more feasible.
Building my blog. A vague goal, to be sure, but it would be nice if the energy I invest here reached a more sizable audience. Tell your friends!
I have other ideas for mountains to climb and sacred spots to visit and skills to learn, but that’s a nice start. If readers have list worthy ideas, drop me a line.