Category Archives: Outdoors

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

 

 

 

This is What’s SUP, Oregon

20160807_105811The other day we tried stand up paddle boarding.  The temperature was mild, it was cloudy, and wind was fairly constant, creating a little chop on the water.  Add to those conditions our novice nature, and the standing up part was more difficult than I imagined.  Did I mention Jackie Chan came with us?  He started on Denise’s larger board, but when we got far apart at one point, he jumped off and tried to swim to me.  Keystone Kops complications ensued.  Luckily, all ended well, and I got more confident standing by the time we finished.  I will happily try this again, preferably when it’s sunny and calm.  Photo courtesy of Jeff Briley at Cascadia SUP.  He rents locally in Portland if people are interested.  Now I’m off to a hike in the sun.

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.

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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It’s Not just for Hiking Anymore

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View from my office this afternoon

It has been far too long since I wrote a significant post.  I could have  posted about this hike or that, yet my life isn’t that simple.  I work more than 40 hour a week, and I have other interests besides hiking.  Shocking, I know.  I learned today that I won a juried photography contest (a shot from a local hike), I have been working on a collection of poetry, and I am trying to attend musical events when I have the energy for local heroes and national stars alike. An ingrown toenail is also a big reason I have put off big hikes.  I know, excuses, excuses.  Enough about that.  Let’s go somewhere!

 

This morning, I helped hang an art show which will benefit Alzheimer’s research, then caught a lunchtime concert by Franco Paletta and the Stingers, a summertime series of outdoor shows in the park by our neighborhood library.  An outdoor adventure seemed like great way to top the day.  I decided on the kayak, and went for a jaunt upstream on the Willamette, paddling solo past Elk Rock Island, taking in a view of scrubby cliffs, including what in the winter is a sizeable waterfall but is now little more than a trickle bound in slimy green verge.

Then I met Mr. Heron.  He eludes me much of the time. When I’ve walked along the bank to capture his image, he spooks and flies away in that dinosaur way.  In the kayak, however, I got within thirty feet from two directions.  He seemed curious but never left the spot behind a giant log in the rocky shallows.

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The shoreline crags of Elk Rock Island were teeming with swimmers and fisherfolk, and I was glad to have a view of that rocky world rather than be among them.  The river itself had occasional wakeboarders and tubing boats, yet it still seemed serene. A new perspective is almost always a good thing.  Look for more water adventures in the future.  Happy summer.

Observation Peak the Long Way

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Great view of Mt. St. Helens

 

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.

Mist and Mud at Abiqua Falls

AB8My 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.

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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.

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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.

 

Dungeness Spit

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The spit arcs across the whole frame and out of sight.

I’ve climbed mountains in the Rockies, walked in temperate rainforests, scrambled in the Sonorans, and ambled across eastern wildflower meadows, but Dungeness Spit might be one of the most unique spots for a hike I’ve encountered.  Situated on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the spit bends like a fishing rod into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as it reaches out to shake hands with Puget Sound.

I’d read that the spit was a nice place to visit, so when my mom visited from Virginia, I put it on our itinerary. I didn’t realize that I’d actually want more time to explore Dungeness Spit.  A flat trail stretches along the top of a long bluff, accessible from a few different points.  There were great views of the strait.  At one point I did my best Sarah Palin impersonation.  If not Russia, I could see, in fact, see Canada from the bluff.  At the east end of the bluff, a trail heads through forest to the base of the spit itself.  There are a few interpretive signs on viewing platforms, but I wanted to get down there.  I just checked out the beginning of the driftwood-strewn, wave-lapped spit, which extends over five miles into the water, where a persistent sand hiker will find a lighthouse.  I already want to return.  Happy hiking.

Breaking in a New Kayak

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Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy many pursuits besides hiking.  Many of them involve creativity, eating, or nature.  So it was that my lovely wife and I took out our new kayak the other day for a quick spin.  It is a Swedish kayak that comes in three pieces which ratchet together.  This means we can stuff the pieces in the back of a modest-sized vehicle or easily carry them down a path to the river.  (The modular nature of the boat is also crucial for ease of storage). With all three pieces assembled, it’s good for two people (and a dog), while if you take out the middle piece, it works for one person.  The trial run was on a gorgeous day in the Willamette Valley.  We paddled upstream to Elk Rock Island, where we debarked and played around for bit on a beach.  An osprey soared over the channel, and I longed to see it dive for a fish, but it was not to be.  On the return leg, we passed a large sightseeing boat, the Portland Spirit, and we were concerned about its wake after ski boats had rocked us a tad, but because of its relatively slow speed, we were fine.  I’m looking forward to more kayaking adventures in the future.  Time for sunscreen and flotation devices!

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Good times!  Jackie says “throw the darn stick!”

 

 

Siouxon Rhymes with Tucson

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A few cracked pavement curves past an hour from Portland, hikers can find an easy trail meandering up one of the prettiest creek drainages in the Cascades.  If you aren’t satisfied with tiny beaches along Siouxon Creek, wait a tick.  A gorgeous emerald pool will be coming soon.  If that isn’t enough, there are a handful of waterfalls scattered through the lush forest. Some of the campsites look rather idyllic, too.

I’d been meaning to visit this area for while, and I finally got around to it on Saturday after taking care of some business. The late start meant no peak climbs, but there was a lollipop style loop that seemed perfect for the old three hour tour.   When I arrived at the trailhead, I was slightly surprised to see dozens of vehicles. The weather was nice on Saturday, so it should have been no surprise, but I’d barely heard of the place.  That’s probably my Oregon bias.  Yes, Washington, I love you, too.

The trail descends briefly in a typical Cascadian forest: lots of big  and a thorough blanket of green at boot height in ferns, oxalis, and wild species of moss. It is the proximity to water and the loveliness of the stream itelf which earns its popularity.  The trail crosses lovely tributaries with small cascades splitting mossy ledges, then meanders through pretty forests.  I kept sneaking peeks at the stream, whose green tinted pool was stunning.  That color!

After passing a few campsites as well as a couple side trails, I reached Chinook Falls, a 50 food plunge into a big pool flanked by a cliff.  I had to decide if I wanted to continue on a loop which would involve a serious stream crossing or return the way I’d come. After reveling in the spot for a few minutes,  I realized the decision was pretty easy.  I will always opt for new territory and a taste of adventure, even if that term has become relative as I’ve hit middle age.  Not exactly

So it was that I came to the icy ford below the side trail toward Wildcat Falls. Sullivan’s guidebook suggested the ford would be little more than a rock hop in summer, but dangerous in winter.  This was in the middle.  I would be getting wet.  Off came the boots, up rolled the pant cuffs.  Then I found a spot that seemed feasible.  The water was almost two feet deep in spots, and it was as cold as I could remember wading through since I was a young buck.  As I moved, careful not to stumble, I could feel my circulation slowing.  Every year, people drown on hot summer days because, once immersed in cold water, their bodies shunt blood to the torso rather than the limbs.  In this instance, the cold only affected my lower legs, and I was upright. I kept moving, careful not to stumble, and I made it to the far bank in a couple minutes.

As in many outdoor endeavors, the most interesting part often comes when we push the limits just a touch.  Finding the balance point between ability, conditions, and desire can sometimes be tricky.  Along the bank of Siouxon Creek, that balance point was relatively simple.  I dried my feet off, laced up my old boots, and walked out a much more deserted path.  I did pass a number of campers, but only one other group seemed to be hiking in.  This was a great moderate hike totaling about eight miles.  I would gladly return, but probably during the week. I might have to do that this summer to check out Wildcat Falls, which I missed.

Side note:  as I write, my stepson Casey and his girlfriend Maya should have arrived in Yosemite for an early backpacking trip.  I am so jealous, and so glad they find value in outdoor adventures.  I am sure they are going to have a blast with their friends.  Happy and safe hiking, everyone.