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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.
During World War II, military gun emplacements were constructed atop Aldrich Butte in the Columbia Gorge. The thinking was to defend Bonneville Dam below. Luckily, the guns were never needed (Fun fact: Oregon was the one continental state bombed in WW II). Concrete remnants of the fortifications are still on top of the butte.
Aldrich Butte makes for a great short hike that can be modified with the addition of a hike to Cedar Falls and a loop trail return. The trailhead is a wide spot in a power line access road near the Bonneville Hot Springs resort. Soon the trail ducks into the trees on an old rocky road. The grade is casual, the mossy trees are spectacular in spots. After a bit less than a mile, a junction is reached at what passes for a lake at Carpenter Lake. It looks like a meadow but I assume it is rather boggy. The trail to the summit cuts back to the left and heads uphill more dramatically to a modest but very pleasant summit. I made it up in about 45 minutes. (My drive was longer than that) Concrete footings, presumably for the gun emplacements, are all over the place. I had to wonder how many similar spots were built up during the war years along the coasts of the U.S.
This was my only day off this week, so I took my time to relax in the sun on top, enjoying the views of the Gorge. Despite seven or eight other vehicles at the trailhead, I saw no other hikers. Perhaps they were ninja hikers, or Special Forces troops testing new camouflage. It worked! I enjoyed my peaceful time. On the way down, I opted to take a variation loop back to the car. This was on an unimproved trail, included a side trip to Cedar Falls, the path to which was slightly sketchy. The side trail is very steep in spots, and there is no signage at all. If you have any navigational qualms, don’t do it. The falls were a secret little treasure. It is not a long way from a road, but this is not a roll-out-of-your-car-and-gawk waterfall. I half walked, half slid my way down a hard dusty trail hundreds of feet into the lush drainage to see the pristine cascade. I may have grumbled a bit at the return climb. I was dripping with sweat by the time I was back on the loop trail. Soon enough, the climbing stopped, and I easily made my way back to my vehicle. Maybe next time I will tackle the faint trail to Cedar Mountain above the falls.
It was a good day for a hybrid hike. That meant part paved bike trail, part pretty woods walk, part glorious meadow, part trail detour along a road. Confused? That’s okay. The main trail head at Powell Butte remains closed due to construction of a new underground reservoir. Yes, you read that right. After all, the city of Portland recently drained a reservoir because a man urinated in it, although scientists admitted that even if the guy had peed toxins, the parts per million would be so low as to pose no danger to the public.
I started my walkabout on an open grassy part of the paved Springwater Corridor trail, about seven miles east from where I walked a week ago. I climbed the Hawthorn Trail’s looping curves meant for descending mountain bikes. I saw no mountain bikes until I emerged on top, once the trail emerged from the forest to a spectacular meadow. There I had to decide how to return. I could head via trails I’d already hikes, but I wanted to try something new. To the east, there were detours due to the construction, but I thought there might be a way to loop back to the Springwater Corridor. I found lots of fencing instead. I followed the mouse maze detour all the way down to Powell Boulevard and walked by apartment complexes and mini malls for some real urban hiking.
Sometimes when I leave the house for a hike, I don’t thoroughly prepare. Life feels too hectic to take an extra thirty minutes to check all my gear. I just want to be on the trail. Shocking, I know. Sunday was such a day. I threw on trail runners and my old worn out hiking pants, grabbed a backpack with stale water, leashed the pup, and drove to Lacamas Regional Park outside Camas, Washington. An acquaintance had said there wasn’t much reason to go hiking there, but I wanted to check. The map I found had looked interesting.
Lacamas Lake is a long narrow lake with one developed trail along its southwest side. Although it’s pretty, I will admit that the lake looks rather ho-hum for hiking. Across the road at Round Lake, on the other hand, there is a whole system of trails circumnavigating the body of water and ranging into the woods beyond. loops A variety of casual and moderate loops are possible. The main round-the-lake trail is essentially an access road in many places. Offshoots, however, can be much more challenging, especially in muddy conditions. I encountered steep grade more than once.
The park has three healthy waterfalls. That was a lot of white water in a medium-sized park. Shortly after leaving the dam at the outlet of the lake, I heard a bird of prey crying. It was way up a many-limbed snag. I tried to get a better angle and zoom in with the camera, but I was only partially successful. I could not identify its species, but I was sure it was not a red tail hawk, perhaps the most common raptor in our area.
For a weekend, there was only a smattering of other hikers, mostly near Lower Falls, which is impressive indeed. It’s not a steep drop, but it feels massive from the footbridge across its lip. Beyond the popular areas, there were a few intersections with no signage, and the map didn’t quite match the world. I made an educated guess and plunged down a steep path to a muddy valley. It was a happy mistake, as I came upon Woodburn Falls, the third waterfall of the day. It was perhaps the prettiest of all, conjuring a smaller version of the famous Ramona Falls on the west side of Mount Hood.
Lacamas Park had a full parking lot, but the crowds were well dispersed. A number of people were fishing, and some were birdwatching. I saw at least one mountain biker. This would be a great place to go for a run. The official lake loop is 1.2 miles, but with additional lops to waterfalls, you could easily add three or four more miles. This would also be a great place to canoe or kayak. While the trail along Lacamas Lake itself may not be spectacular, there is plenty of exercise to be found in the regional park, so consider a visit.
I had not prepared for much, so I certainly got more than anticipated. The weather had looked iffy early, but it was almost perfect until the end. I got some great sunny moments to light up green, gold, and brown of the ubiquitous moss. As I finished the lake loop, mist started to fall. Good timing. It was a perfect way to end the hike-almost as if I’d planned it.
Surely one of the few extinct volcanoes inside any major city, Mount Tabor is a popular spot to get outside on Portland’s east side. Roads, trails, and reservoirs dot the landscape, and the top is almost 500 feet and change higher than downtown, so there are views in spots.
Denise, Jackie Chan and I headed there for a Saturday walk. We needed to get some exercise, and the weather is supposed to get a lot worse in the next couple days, so we’re taking advantage of the last semi-balmy weather.
We got some exercise, and Jackie met lots of other dogs. Quite a few people were walking and jogging the trails, and while there is no getting away from the presence of neighborhoods and cars, Mount Tabor is definitely a green oasis in the heart of Southeast Portland.
Our path had us spiral around the base of the butte like formation, above two reservoirs and along side another one, then start to climb. There are lots of navigational options between pavement and dirt track. Our upper section was relatively tough.
Okay, there really isn’t much of a summit. There’s a broad flattish area ringed by a road, but I’m not sure you can drive all the way up there anymore. Nice Doug Firs dot the area, but you can also get views in spots. We sat on a park bench and enjoyed such a views before descending toward the volcano crater. There’s a basketball court there now.
Mount Tabor is an underrated gem, far smaller than Forest Park, and not quiet as lovely as the Arboretum, but it’s still pretty great, and it is right in the city. You can even break a sweat if you try.
I might make some Oregonians mad, or they might think I am mad in a different sense of the word when I say that the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge is better for hiking. Of course, that’s coming from the perspective of someone who craves heights and dramatic views. I actually like both sides. The waterfalls on the Oregon side are great, and the greenery can be stunning, but if you like views and rugged terrain, head to the Washington side. Consider Dog Mountain, Wind Mountain, or Hamilton Mountain. That was my thought process when I climbed Hardy Ridge yesterday.
The parking lot known as the equestrian trailhead in Beacon Rock State Park is a mile or so off the highway. The trail is really an old road blocked off by a gate, so the walking is easy. There are various junctions, but all are well signed. It is possible to start from here and go east to Hamilton Mountain. Perhaps another day. I opt to continue with the Hardy Ridge Loop.
I had recommendations to go both directions, but I went counter clockwise, and that worked out well. After an hour the road peters out, and from there it is but ten or fifteen minutes to the open ridge crest. I pause for an energy bar and a few pics. The day is cool, but I am a heat machine, so I am tad sweaty. Keeping a good temperature is always tricky for me. I use a bandana to dry off the back of my head and neck so I don’t get chilled on the breezy ridge.
An unofficial trail heads north on the ridge for three quarters of a mile. It is easy to follow if fairly rugged in a couple spots. After the first seven or eight minutes, the views are constantly with you. Life is good.
The maw of the gorge is below, a snowy Mount Hood peeking over the peaks of the Columbia Wilderness. To the east, Hamilton Mountain looks surprisingly small. Even Table Mountain looks relatively modest. I have climbed higher than I thought.
The ridge alternates mossy areas with brush, stands of trees, and rocky patches. Fending off some tight brushy spots reminded me a little of a minor epic bushwhack on Signal Buttes a few years ago. Hardy Ridge is definitely easier, and I would not consider it off trail hiking. It’s a lot more accessible, too, but the open ridge feels similar.
I hung out on top for a long time soaking in the views, contemplating my quiet life in a loud world. Another person sat a hundred yards past me, seemingly meditating. Nice spot for it.
The herd path appears to keep going to a lower east west ridge to the north. I envision a more difficult hike, linking this ridge to Table Mountain or Hamilton Mountain. Hmm.
My descent is uneventful apart from one steep section on the west side trail where I slipped. My round trip, including a least a half hour slounging on top, took four hours. My legs are bit stiff from walking non-stop on the way back. Once again, the Washington side of the Gorge again satisfied my need to get out and stretch my legs.
It seems strange to have a trail called “return” when it could be the start of your trail. That’s where I ended up today after an aborted attempt to find the trail to Wauna Viewpoint (not the same as Wauna Point). I tried to wing it without a map after reading a website. I know, I know. Bad move.
The Return Trail starts just west of the Multnomah Falls parking lot. I’d never been to Wahkeena Falls proper, so it seemed a fine choice. The pup and I were quickly back on track. The trail cuts across the slope for about half a mile, going through one odd little dip where there was a giant overhang. The photo doesn’t do it justice. It never does.
Once I reached the creek below Wahkeena Falls, I gawked at the scenery. The water was lovely, with new fallen leaves adding some yellow and orange to the whitewater and the normal greens and browns of the area.
On the far side of the creek, I walked up one giant switchback two tenths of a mile to the falls. The cascade is not as tall as Latourell or Multnomah, but it has multiple drops of varying widths. It is quite lovely.
Jackie Chan and I hung out on a bench fifty yards beyond the falls. A runner trotted by wearing shorts that looked like they were taped on him. The trail continued toward the Larch Mountain Trail, but this was good enough for today. Wahkeena Falls is an easy hike, but an enjoyable one.
I had been on the lower part of the Ridge Trail in Forest Park before, but this time I followed it all the way to its end, where it merges with Firelane Seven. The sun-dappled woods were lovely, especially up high, where there are no high ridges blocking light.
By the time I rested at the top, about forty minutes in, I had worked up some sweat. For an urban hike, the elevation gain was very respectable. My descent was via the Hardesty Trail, which for a brief period felt like the wildest trail I’d yet encountered in Forest Park.
The path does a little jog on the Wildwood Trail, then drops down a narrow canyon to rejoin Leif Ericson Drive. This took over an hour, covering a few pleasant miles. Not bad.
Staying off of the Wildwood trail, it is easy to have the forest to yourself in Forest Park. I saw only a few people, including a guitar player in the woods. That’s Portland. And for that, I am grateful.
Just over twenty minutes after leaving the Top Spur trailhead, I reached one of the classic Oregon hiking viewpoints. Mount Hood looms large over the steep, bare flanks of Bald Mountain and the silvery strands of the Muddy Fork far below. There is barely a spot wide enough to get comfortable for a photo. The sun is in my face, so the first photos with my new Nikon don’t come out well. Soon I dipped back into the trees, but this sort of spot is always a good start to a hike.
My destination was the old CCC shelter at McNeil Point and the alpine terrain above it. I’d been there a few times, but I’d never climbed above the shelter toward the upper reaches of Cathedral Ridge. The hike is casual for the most part. There are two great viewpoints along the way, one of which even has nice rock perches.
The Timberline Trail doesn’t officially go to the McNeil Point shelter, but there is spur trail heading up there. There is also a steep climber’s trail which takes off alongside a tiny creek. I missed it on my way by but found it after hopping across a rockslide. This is much shorter than taking the official trail, but it is also much steeper—not for the faint of heart.
The shelter was as I remembered, a stone remnant of one of FDR’s stimulus programs. It is a great spot to relax and absorb the views, with the glaciers and craggy ridges of the mountain looming above, and views into the maw of the Muddy Fork’s canyon below. Across the canyon, the bulk of Yocum Ridge is enticing. To the north, Mounts St. Helens, Rainier and Adams are all visible.
Upwards. A hiker’s trail headed up through the alpine tundra world. Vistas reminded me of the alpine scenes in The Sound of Music. Serious. I was feeling out of shape, so I took my time to snap photos and stay hydrated.
40 minutes of hiking above the shelter, the trail vanishes and I wandered along a craggy ridgeline. At first it was mere rock hopping, but eventually I needed to use my hands, and I finally had to commit to climbing with a lot of exposure. The experience was reminiscent of the landscape along nearby Barrett Spur as well as the epic ridge traverse I did between Sacagawea and Matterhorn in the Wallowas in 2012. (Those are each classic Oregon hiking scrambles as well, but the traverse on the latter trip is only for seasoned alpine hikers.)
The ridge was far more rugged than it had appeared from below, which is a good thing in my book. Tough scrambling was worth it to stare at the face of Mount Hood from this vantage. It might not be as tall as a lot of peaks, but it is, to borrow the old Columbia Sportswear ad, one tough mother.
White wispy clouds gradually grew, and the skies slowly darkened. Time to get going. Other hikers appeared below along a grassy sub ridge adjacent to the Sandy Glacier. I wondered if they were on a decent path, and I decided it looked like a safer route down.
When I descended, I found no trail, and the hikers had vanished. Some ridiculous talus slope hopping ensued. Rocks teetered underfoot and slid on the micro-pebbles beneath. It’s a broken ankle waiting to happen. In retrospect, this was not my best choice, but I didn’t want to lose too much elevation.
Eventually I traversed back to the path and enjoyed the last of the killer views before clouds cloaked the volcano. With my scrambles on top of trail hiking, I probably ventured 10 or 11 miles, which is relatively modest, but more than 3000 feet of elevation gain and challenging scrambles made it a very respectable day in the mountains.
I would be sore the next day, but it was worth it. I hadn’t known what to expect from the terrain. What I found was an experience that fits perfectly in the pantheon of classic Oregon hiking trips.
After riding a tram to the top of the Sandia Range, as documented in my last post, I was confronted with some tough choices as a hiker. It felt like the ad for a certain mini market chain: Too much good stuff! Luckily, an obvious hiking target arose quickly in the Kiwanis Cabin. It was visible a mile to the north along the edge of the ridge. It looked like a spectacular vantage point for photos.
The first part of the Crest Trail heads at a casual pitch north of the area where the Sandia Peak Tram and the Sandia Peak Ski Area abut.In just a few steps there is a junction. The route to the left plunges into the abyss, clinging tenuously to the rocky scarp. It reminded me a great deal of the upper third of the Bright Angel Trail in The Grand Canyon. A misstep in certain spots would send a hiker tumbling hundreds of feet. We were worried about our pup darting after a squirrel or bird, so we turned back toward the intersection and turned up the Crest Trail.
There is a nature trail loop, but we stayed on the main trail, which offers a few stellar views to the west as we walked on limestone with what appeared to be fossils embedded. Denise wore cowgirl boots, and Jackie Chan was getting over being sick, so they turned around at one especially windy open slope.
After promising to hike quickly and return, I forged ahead in the woods, few other hikers nearby. Once I hit the other trails coming from the north, foot traffic started increasing.
The route to the Kiwanis Cabin takes sections of a few trails to curve around a lovely alpine meadow mostly blocked off by split-rail fences. Apparently there once were multiple trails crossing the open area, but they were abused, and alpine areas take a long time healing from clumsy hikers and bikers, so the area was closed for restoration.
The hike is short anyway, and it was worth it to reach the sweeping views at the Kiwanis Cabin. The stone house was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s as part of the New Deal to get people jobs and teach them skills. Mount Hood has a number of CCC huts built in the same time frame, a couple of which are still out there near the Timberline Trail.
The Kiwanis Cabin was a casual 1.5 miles from the tram’s upper terminal. There is one short section where the trail climbed steadily and dealt with significant roots and rocks. Most hikers would be fine here, although the elevation might make it feel tiring.
As my camera has dropped-by-owner disease, not all of my photos came out well. Hopefully in the next week or so I will purchase a new camera.
The Sandia Range is beautiful, easily accessible for most people, yet very rugged. This is highly recommended for any who want a classic island in the sky experience. There is nothing like being in a green forest and looking thousands of feet down at a brown and red desert landscape.