Category Archives: hiking

Chasing Snow, Finding Fog

dsc01105Having lived in the mountains for years, I am accustomed to dealing with cold, rain, and snow.  That said, as a city dweller now, I play it cautious because I’ve learned not to trust other drivers. When the Portland area got its first snow freakout warning of the season, however, I decided it would be a nice opportunity to take a hike in different conditions.  Luckily, the roads were simply wet on the way to Marquam Nature Park.   Good start.

I left my vehicle in one of numerous pullouts along Terwilliger Boulevard and headed up the muddy Marquam Trail.  I had no particular place to go, I just wanted to gain elevation and hopefully see a little snow.  Ultimately, I created a loop with the Flicker and Towhee Trails.  My route trended upward for a while, and then flattened out in a quiet forest.  I topped out at less than 800 feet above sea level.  There were dustings of snow here and there, and I did see a few flakes falling.  The slick mud underfoot affected me more than any white stuff.

 

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A moody look up this steep foggy hillside

 

While Marquam is not a well known as its big brother to the north, Forest Park, it is also sizable and a fine choice for any Portland area hiker or jogger in need of a few trail miles, even when a touch of snow is in the forecast. Happy trails.

Columbia River Gorge Tour #2

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The creek below Wahkeena Falls

Initially, Denise and I headed for Latourell Falls.  The sky was foggy, the temperature cool, so I was not overly excited, but I wanted to stretch my legs and take some photos with my new camera.   Once we got on the scenic highway at Corbett, plans evolved.  We stopped at first great viewpoint,  known as the Portland Women’s Forum Viewpoint.  Not a bad seat in the joint.  I’d never been to the far end to the parking lot before, with slightly better views of the river and a classic look at Crown Point.  From there, we drove to the nearby Vista House atop Crown Point, then dropped into the trees on the winding road to the first big falls of the Gorge.

For a few reasons, we didn’t set out on a real hike at Latourell Falls, which I’ve previously documented on this site.  Instead, we strode up the first steep pitch to a nice viewpoint of the falls, then turned back.  I was thinking Shepperd’s Dell would be our next spot, but I forgot all about Bridal Veil Falls State Park!  Silly me.  It isn’t dramatic from the road, but this is a hidden gem with two very different trails.  Since Denise had not seen the river overlook trail, we skipped the waterfall trail and ambled about the meandering flat trail.  There are views of the mighty Columbia in both directions, and great head-on looks at the Washington side of the Gorge in the Cape Horn area.

Shepherd’s Dell is not much of a spot to hike, but it has a cool falls, which is made more mysterious by upper reaches I’d never before noticed.   The watercourse almost corkscrews. Cascades are visible through the trees along the highway which are invisible from the trail itself.   This is a great little spot for a rest.

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Wahkeena Falls

Like its big brother Multnomah Falls, Wahkeena Falls is a popular spot, and with good reason.  The falls is not one clean plunge, but a couple of horsetails and a cascade below to boot.  The base of the main falls is easily accessible by paved trail.

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Fern gully

Knowing this, we cruised up there.  It only takes a few minutes.   I was impressed by the flow and the breeze which that created.  I didn’t dally long by the falls proper, but continued past.  We hiked up about 11 switchbacks to Lemmon Viewpoint, which took perhaps 20 minutes.  I didn’t remember how tough the trail was, but it was easy, and the views were great.  It was a nice capper to another great tour of the Columbia River Gorge.

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Lemmon Viewpoint and Washington

Note:  In double checking spellings of a couple waterfalls, I stumbled on a cool site for waterfall lovers, Northwest Waterfall Survey.  I knew a number of the names, like Ecola and Mist, but was not aware of Dalton, Little Necktie, and a few others.   Just when I needed new ideas for local exploration!  Happy hikes, everyone.

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East to Beacon Rock

 

 

 

Misty Moody Mountains

They’re not actually called the Misty Moody Mountains, but the description fit on a gray day above Whittier.  The rain came early and stopped.  My regular trail pants got soaked from brushing against dripping trailside bushes, and made me wish I had my rain paints.  Oh well. The trail did not get close to the waterfall I was attempting to spy up close, but the hike was beautiful anyway.  Don’t you agree?

Gray Green Beautiful Scene

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.

 

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

Alaska the Easy Way

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Not bad for foothills.  Tokosha Mountains, AK.

My first trip to Alaska didn’t last nearly long enough.  That said, my wife planned a heck of a trip in a tight time window.  We flew late at night from Portland to Anchorage.  After a few hours sleep, we ate breakfast at a nearby café which included reindeer sausage.  Yep.  Soon enough we had a rental car and headed north.  Talkeetna, here we come.  As soon as we passed the city limits, mountains loomed to the north and east. The forests were not as dense as those I am accustomed to in Oregon and Washington.  The hemlocks and spruces were lovely, but on the small side.  No matter.  The scale of the land itself was cause for celebration. We stopped at a few different spots and saw stunning vistas.  Mountains, lakes, wildlife and cute towns.  I envisioned a hundred hikes on that two hour drive.

We arrived in Talkeetna a bit earlier than expected, and I moved up a flightseeing trip as a result.  Twist my arm.  Ten of us flew in a small plane courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi north to the Alaska Range.   From the braided Susitna River to the Ruth Glacier and a fly by of big peaks, I was in heaven.  We landed high on a glacier and gawked for fifteen minutes.  Immaculate snowy peaks with massive cliffs were everywhere. The weather was perfect for us, if a bit warm for alpinists.  For a mountain lover, this was almost a surreal experience, a bucket list trip to be sure.

Back in Talkeetna, Denise and I grubbed at Denali Brewing’s patio on a warm evening. They had a nice beer selection and great food.  Mostly I remember the peanut butter pie.  After exploring the town a bit more, including some unique street vendors, we retired to our room in the quaint Roadhouse. A nap was in order, but shortly after 11 p.m., we got up and headed out in search of the Aurora Borealis.  We found it nearby. My photos are not great, but I include one for reference.  Interestingly, there is a firm in Talkeetna that offers lesson on how to take photos the northern photos. Next time I will bring a better camera and take that lesson.

Not bad for one day.  Look for more photos soon, including some of spectacular  hiking in Denali National Park.  Happy hiking.

 

 

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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