Category Archives: Geology
I just wanted to get out of the city on a hot afternoon. Without meaning to, however, I found a series of tiny cascades in the Columbia River Gorge. The primary trail I hiked ends in a nice spot, but ever inquisitive, I wanted to see what was around the corner. I continued up the bedrock of the stream. There were a couple of herd paths around logs and tiny cliffs, but it was almost as easy to clamber over rocks and logs, or simply hike in the very shallow water. Every turn offered a new gorgeous scene, with water, rock, greenery, and sky all vying for my attention.
Many of the spots seemed more dramatic due to the volcanic rock over which the water flowed, and on which I trod. Eventually, I sat on a mossy boulder at one point and simply took it all in, walking down only after I’d enjoyed the quiet canyon for almost an hour. It may seem strange to not mention the name of the trail, but I’d like to keep this a hidden gem. What about you? Do you have special places in the wild you would prefer to keep secret?
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.
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.
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.
My 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Smith Rock is one of those places where one’s attention is drawn to a few spots, while missing many of the gems in the park. Famous as a rock climbing destination for decades, Smith is a place touched by outdoor magic. It’s why I moved to nearby Bend when I was 19. That stay didn’t last long, but over the years, I continued visiting Smith regularly until the past decade. When I drove to the park last Saturday, I wanted a different experience. I went not as a climber but a simple hiker who likes to avoid the crowds. And crowds there were. Parking was a minor adventure. The regular lots were full before 10 a.m. Of course, it was the first really nice day in weeks, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Oregon’s spring break. Once I got my parking spot and bought a day pass, I geared up and hiked to the river crossing below the massive Picnic Lunch Wall. Unlike most people, I turned upstream at the junction there. I was headed toward Staender Ridge and the Marsupial Crags. It was a part of the park I’d never visited.
The cliffs are stupendous, and while not all crags are appealing for climbers, the overall setting is stunning. Partway up the ridge, there was the dry gulch of an old canal stemming from the 1940s. Above that, the Marsupial Crags beckoned a few climbers. They certainly looked worthy of the longer approach hike. I continued up the road to the saddle, and found myself sweating. It was fascinating to skirt behind cliffs I’d seen so many times from below, now looking way down on the popular climbing areas. Everything seemed less consequential from that height.
Leaving the saddle, I took the Summit Trail along the backside of the cliffs, heading west. Memories of youthful climbing exploits washed over my mind as I soaked in the views of distant peaks. The South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Jefferson. There had been so many memorable climbs at Smith itself, including the time I broke my leg. Now my joints creak when I hike a stiff hill. All around me, amazing cliffs, crags, and spires in a variety of hues. I could have gawked for hours. The trail descends in switchbacks through sage and juniper draped slopes, crossing through private land as the grade tapered, then turned to parallel the Crooked River, heading back upstream. In moments, the famous Monkey Face was visible-okay, the back of the monkey’s head.
As I passed a series of minor cliffs, the views of Monkey Face improved, and I could hear a group of climbers hundreds of feet up as they negotiated the final pitch of a route. Right at the northwest base of the tower, the river trail intersected with the Misery Ridge Trail, and the crowds grew almost exponentially, a mix of climbers and tourists who didn’t even look prepared to hike. I sauntered past Mesa Verde wall and Spiderman Buttress to the notch where climbers cross the rocky ridge in a shortcut which bypasses a mile of trail where the river does a sharp bend, cliffs soaring above it. Scrambling over Asterisk Pass never bothered me when I was in my twenties, but now, years later, I had to hesitate before climbing over it. It is not for everyone. Once I crossed, I was looking at the heart of the Smith, the other crags that made it famous: the Christian Brothers, the Dihedrals, and Morning Glory Wall. Climbers were everywhere. I’d never seen such crowds. Call it sour grapes, but it took away a little bit of the mystique the place used to hold for me. Okay, not much. I had seen way too many cool things in a a few hours. But don’t listen to me. Just ask the climbers. Or the geese.
Even if I can’t do all the same things I did twenty years ago, Smith is an awesome place to visit. I recommend it to any Pacific Northwest visitors who love the outdoors. Get there early if the weather is nice, or plan on parking far away. I hope I’ll return soon.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.