Category Archives: Memories

Cobbling Together an Adventure


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.

Herman Creek Pinnacles


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.


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.

Hiding from Rain in the Rocks


Yesterday was gray and damp, and I didn’t have any great ambitions for a hike.  Instead, I opted to explore an area where I used to rock climb on the flank of Portland’s Rocky Butte. As documented last year, a trail scales the butte in conjunction with the road, but I had no intention of climbing to the open summit with the cyclists and viewseeking drivers.   I parked near the upper end of the trail and dropped into the forest as the trail cut through a gap in the crags.

The path flattens as it nears the noisy I-205, and I was somewhat surprised to see a number of tents dotting the area.  A makeshift branch fence surrounded one camp.   A pickup bedliner was used as a roof by another.  How things change.  The city is known to have a homeless problem, like many other cities.  But for whom is it really a problem?   These people live from hand to mouth in areas developers can’t yet touch and make massive profits.  There is more trash in the woods than there used to be, but even when I came here to top rope routes in high school, there was graffiti and the occasional smashed beer bottle or three.   I continued walking, wishing there were easy answers.

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The cliffs are often dirty and covered in moss and the like, yet there are stretches that are very pretty, where there are climbs like Bird of Paradise, White Rabbit, and Blackberry Jam, that seemed like testpieces when I was 18. After navigating the slippery, mossy boulders beneath the crags, I found all of those climbs and more.  Good memories. Climbers still use the butte, but probably not as much with the advent of indoor gyms and the development of the climbs in other nearby areas.  Rain spattered the area as I wandered, but beneath the trees, it barely affected me.  I only had to be exceedingly careful as I clambered over the rocks.  Very slick going. Urban hiking can be a mixed bag.  After seeing the homeless camps, and thinking about the twists and turns of my own life, I found myself with plenty to think about as I hiked back up hill to the car.  It may have been just what I needed.




Bend Trip Part Two: Smith Rock

Smith 7.5

The drier side of Oregon

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.

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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.

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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.


A few Canada Geese perched on rocks as if guarding the area


Looking down from Asterisk Pass after I’d crossed back over.  

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.


Bend Trip Part One


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.


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.


Denise and Jackie Chan from atop a tiny crag

Snow Stroll in the Hood


A tiny island in the Sandy River

On Sunday, I returned to my old stomping grounds at the foot of Mt. Hood with bittersweet feelings.  First, I attended a celebration of life for a long time community volunteer and fine man.  I was able to visit many of my former fire department brethren.  Then it was time to go.  I had no plan, but wanted a walk in the woods knowing there would be snow nearby. Less than two miles up Lolo Pass road, snow was starting to pile up on the side of the road.  Hmm.  Could be interesting, I thought, especially without four wheel drive.   I pieced a pullout near the Sandy River and tromped through the woods.  There was no goal but to get in touch with nature.  It felt good.  Just what I needed.

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Giving Thanks for the Squirrels

Life does not always proceed according to plan. Okay, it almost never does.  And besides my self imposed tangents (Squirrel!), much has changed in my life since I started this blog.  I do not get to climb as many mountains as I like, but I savor memories of trips to the Wallowas, like this gray summit day on Eagle Cap where I was surprised to see a squirrel at well over 9000 feet.

The squirrel seemed to toy with me.   Matterhorn in the  background

The squirrel seemed to toy with me. Matterhorn in the background

I hope to continue feeling grateful for what I do have, like a great family, and what I am able to do, such as hiking on occasion rather than what I do not have or have not done.  Happy Thanksgiving, and happy hiking.

Clackamas River Dead End Trail

Oh so tempting

Oh so tempting

After a friend told me on two different occasions how he enjoyed the Clackamas River Trail, it was high on my hiking radar.  When I got a day off today and the sun was shining, the Clackamas seemed a logical destination. Denise and I loaded up a couple packs and headed out there for a quick out-and-back trip.  As I drove along the river, I fondly remembered kayaking it with a buddy years ago.  The waters are more pristine upstream from North Fork Reservoir, but a road parallels the river for many miles.

D & JC walking in front

D & JC walking in front

Although I’d driven the road multiple times (its the route to the famous Bagby Hot Springs) it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have the road as backdrop while hiking.  Duh.  It was in the background half the time.   The woods are still really nice, more open than most forests on Mt. Hood, due to an obvious wildfire.

A stand of charred trunks

A stand of charred trunks

Denise led the way for a while, and then I took over.  The walking was not too tough.  The trail was rocky in a few spots, muddy in a few spots, and lined with poison oak for fifty feet (in the switchbacks).   After climbing over a high point, we switchbacked down to the riverside and a tiny but pretty beach.  Jackie wanted to chase sticks, so I obliged.  Then it was onward and upward again.  The trail was closed at the two mile mark due to recent slide activity that made the trail impassable.  The signage had alerted us to the situation, but it was still a let-down.

View from the trail closure

View from the trail closure

The jade hues of the river were gorgeous from that high point.  I wanted to jump into its depths or kayak down the whitewater.  Maybe on a hotter day.  There are many more miles to the trail.  Hopefully it will get repaired and re-open at some point.   I’ll be back.

Mr. Snake tried to hide.  Jackie didn't clue in.

Mr. Snake tried to hide. Luckily, Jackie didn’t clue in.


Tryon Creek State Park Revisited

Tryon Creek in person

Tryon Creek in person

Once upon a time, when the earth was young and my hair was all brown, I grew familiar with the trails of Tryon Creek State Park, wedged between Southwest Portland and Lake Oswego.  I hadn’t revisited the park for years, but chance chose this past Sunday for a visit, which coincided with the park’s Trillium Festival.  Certainly, the flowers were out in force. As of 2013, there were 44 recognized species of trillium.

The famed flowers, lovely in all their colors

The famed flowers, lovely in all their colors

Here’s two fun facts: the White Trillium is the official flower of the Ontario, while the Large White Trillium is the official wildflower of Ohio.  But enough about learning.

Swampy area on Iron Mountain Trail

Swampy area on Iron Mountain Trail

My walk was uneventful but pleasant.  I saw the spot where I’d walked almost a mile in the dark many moons ago.  This time was simply a nice afternoon hike between the Iron Mountain Trail, Cedar Trail, and Old Main Trail, completing the link with the bike path along Terwilliger Boulevard.   I found serious ant activity, a lot of mud, and some very cool stumps.

Strange tree--it grew on the stump of another

Strange tree–it grew on the stump of another

I found the area muddier than I expected, so completing my loop on the paved path was a good call.  It also made for an easy downhill cruise to the car.  Tryon Creek State Park is free, it’s convenient, and all the best trilliums hang out there.  It’s a great place for hikers and flower lovers to spend an hour or three.


Remembering Salmon River Canyon


For some reason I found myself poring over old photos tonight.  Flashback to two  summers ago.  I hiked up the Salmon River Trail with my friend Steve, who toted his infant daughter on his back. There are couple great lookout points on the trail including this one. After hiking a bit over an hour to get there, we sat and enjoyed the views and each other’s company. Glorious day.