Category Archives: Peakbagging

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.

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.

Wallowas View of Needle Point

Wallowas View of Needle Point

Ah, memories. Here is a look toward Needle Point from the backside of Eagle Cap in the Wallowa Mountains from a trip a few years ago. While not a spectacular photo, it’s a spectacular location. The hike from my camp in the gorgeous Lakes Basin was not too challenging, although this would be a fairly difficult one day hike.  I debated going off trail further toward Glacier Peak, but the weather was a bit iffy. I hope to revisit the Wallowas next summer. It is a prime hiking and scrambling area.

Flashback: A View from Mount Osceola

Flashback:  A View from Mount Osceola

I needed some inspiration amidst a sedentary time, and found this shot from a trip to the White Mountains in 2010. We’d come from Montreal to visit my mother in New Hampshire. This was a great moderate hike except for my sister ripping her achilles tendon on the way down when she wrenched her ankle on the rocky trail. Yep. There was some hobbling, some leaning on each other, and perhaps a few choice words. (She has since run a marathon). Osceola had views into the heart of the Whites up north. I hope I get back there some day to hit the Presidential Range.

Dog Mountain Daze

The view from the trailhead bodes well despite the clouds

The view from the trailhead bodes well despite the clouds

Dog Mountain is a near legendary hike in the Columbia River Gorge.  If it is one tier down from Mount Defiance and Table Mountain on a list of training hikes for mountaineers, it may have more bang for the buck than any other peak in the gorge for its spectacular upper slopes, its tremendous views of the Cascades and the gorge that splits them, as well as the challenge of its trails.

Putting in the work

Putting in the work down low

The Dog Mountain hike isn’t an endurance fest, clocking in at less than seven miles round trip, but the uphill offers plenty of challenge.  I got a very late start after dealing with some business, so I was surprised to see only a few other vehicles in the lot.   According to high level research, no rain was in the forecast in Portland, but a lot of clouds were moving in uninvited.  Quickly, Jackie Chan and I got on the move.   The trail climbs immediately into a series of switchbacks, with a few nice views in a pleasant oak forest.

Junction city

Junction city

In a bit over half a mile, the trail splits.  Challenging myself, I took the route marked “most difficult”.  Silly monkey.    There were no views now as the forest tightened up under heavy leaf and needle.   The path is attractive, but sections where it climbs relentlessly make you forget about the lovely flora beside and above you.

Nice lush forest on the climb

Nice lush forest on the climb

A few raindrops found their way through the forest canopy to my arms.    When the pitter patter on leaves got heavy (a lovely sound when you are sheltered) I huddled beneath a giant maple, staying dry.  That gave us time to recharge metaphorical batteries with food and drink.  Jackie was finicky:  you can lead him to water, but….

Luckily the rain ceased and we started up another steep slope.   I used the My Tracks app on my phone to keep track of my distance and elevation, which I rarely do, but I was curious especially about the elevation gain.   It totaled about 2800 feet, which is very solid for a three and half mile hike, almost on a Mount Defiance pace.

Switchback showing a bit of the steepness

Switchback showing a bit of the steepness

I was very happy when the trails reconnected.  Shortly thereafter, after another unofficial rain delay, we broke into the open, gradually traversing a massive open slope.   Dog Mountain is famous for wildflowers, but it was a touch late in the season for the grand displays that must be here in May and June.

Jackie Chan the wonderdog approves

Jackie Chan approves of the view toward Hood River from the turning point up high

The trail splits again below the summit at a slight promontory.  This time I made the right choice and stayed left.  The views are so tremendous that I stop thinking about fatigue.

Looking up toward the summit

Looking up toward the Dog’s head

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Looking back at the trail from close to the summit

One hiker passed me at the end, where I was busy snapping pics (and yes, huffing and puffing).   We saw no other people up high.   The views were simply stunning, the world at our feet.    Simple tremendous views lie in almost all directions.

Little old Mount Defiance a hop and skip across the gorge

Little old Mount Defiance a hop and skip across the gorge

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Mount Hood peeking over the shoulder of Defiance

Fellow hiker soaking in the view from the top of the pup

Fellow hiker soaking in the view from the top

Lovely flowers above treeline

Lovely flowers above treeline

The upper slopes offer tremendous views of the Columbia Gorge, looking both east and west, along with a tremendous frontal view of the Mount Defiance escarpment.   To the north, there is a nice view of Mount Saint Helens. beyond some foothills.

Looking north to my favorite volcano

Looking north to my favorite volcano

I sat on a grassy hummock  for some time, absorbing the splendor.   It’s always bittersweet to leave such a perch.  But the sun was moving down.  Time to go.

Tiny glimmer of beauty high on the peak

Tiny glimmer of beauty high on the peak

Wind Mountain looks tiny from here

Wind Mountain looks a bit insignificant from this vantage; what a spot!

Curiously, on the descent, I encountered multiple groups of hikers descending.  I guess they didn’t want to get all the way to the top.  The rest of the descent (I took the alternate route) was smooth.  This is one of the more outstanding hikes to be had in the Pacific Northwest for an afternoon’s work.   Highly recommended.

Note: remember money for the tolls at the Bridge of the Gods or the Hood River bridge. 

Waiting out the weather by creating a bucket list

Life has been hectic, and I haven’t been hiking or posting as much as I’d like.  After a few weeks of nice weather, and good timing, luck ran out.   The end of the school year is always a tad goofy, and family visiting to celebrate a graduation made our days completely filled for a week or so.

Urban hiking

Mother in front of the beautiful fountain at Peninsula Park

The weather is now entirely disagreeable for outdoor adventures.  So I think once again of small recent outdoor moments to savor, but I also must  dream big. I greatly admire my fellow blogger  Lesley Carter and her dedication to an annual bucket list.  I’m not quite sure how she pulls it off, but there’s no time like the present to set my own goals and try to follow suit.

Less than bucket list worthy, but still nice: Peninsula Park

Not exactly the PCT, but a good leg-stretching section of path

Hence a brief Bucket List:

Climb Mount Rainier.  I’ve climbed Mount Hood eight times, but its not the same.  I first attempted Rainier as a teenager, but got sick and wimped out.   The next year I was in great shape and raring to go, but our group was slow and it was warm.  We didn’t trust the snow bridges on the glacier and we turned back.

Hike a long section of the Pacific Crest Trail.  I probably first set foot on the PCT when I was 12 or 13, but I have never hiked a long distance on it.  I ready Eric Ryback’s book about it when I was in high school.  It’s about time I did my own trip.

Raft the Grand Canyon with my family.   Whitewater is something I’ve always loved but have rarely indulged in recent years. Next summer, Mom!

Hike the entire Wildwood Trail.  This trail in Portland’s Forest Park is dozens of wooded miles long.   It’s another path I’ve hiked on since I was very young, but it’s about time I link all the sections.

Revive my harmonica skills.  This is the ultimate musical instrument for hiking trips, since it’s pocket sized.   It’s time to really learn those scales and play more advanced tunes than “You Are My Sunshine” or a butchered “Scotland the Brave”.

Completing Cycle Oregon.  I once thought about riding across the nation, but this seems a bit more feasible.

Building my blog. A vague goal, to be sure, but it would be nice if the energy I invest here reached a more sizable audience.  Tell your friends!

I have other ideas for mountains to climb and sacred spots to visit and skills to learn, but that’s a nice start. If readers have list worthy ideas, drop me a line.

Perfect weather for an Eagle Creek retreat

Alton Collins

This weekend I was lucky enough to attend a retreat in Eagle Creek.  Our group had business, but there was much more focus on camaraderie, games, relaxation, and good food.   The Alton Collins Retreat Center is a perfect setting for such purposes.  There are a couple miles of trails in the area, so you can bet I went out to enjoy them.   Saturday afternoon I led a group hike in a casual loop dropping downhill to skirt Deep Creek, then curving back to the center.   The dynamics of hiking with ten people or so were unusual for me.  I am accustomed to hiking solo or with experienced hikers who move quickly and who contemplate little but the view from the top.

Fellow hiker in what felt like a primeval forest

Fellow hiker in what felt like a primeval forest

The trail system at Alton Collins is well marked, if the signs are mossy at times.  Some of the brush had obviously been cleared recently, and the trails were in decent shape.  The forest is typical for Western Oregon, heavy on the cedars and alders with plenty of sword ferns.   Deep Creek itself was small but lovely, with a couple of exceptionally nice little pools.   The trail flattened as it turned upstream, and members of our group perched on a bridge for a bit, contemplating the blue sky day and the clear waters running beneath us.   We then stretched out as a second group joined the first.   Assuming others would follow, I led a cluster of hikers further upstream until the trail neared the highway and turned again.   The trail climbed rapidly but briefly as it wound back toward the retreat center.  While the temperature must have been close to 80 in the sun, hiking in the trees felt perfect.

Lovely woods near the creek

Lovely woods near the creek

My only worry was when our group stretched out so far I couldn’t see the end of the line.  As it turns out, one member of the second group bringing up the rear joined the first, while the rest turned around, unsure of the way.  Naturally, I didn’t know this at the time.  I am fairly used to being in a leadership role, but with this group and this event, it was an entirely new situation.  After the first few hikers returned, I realized we’d straggled into multiple clumps, and I found myself worrying until the last group returned, perhaps because it included my lovely other half.  Next time, I would pay more attention.  Naturally, it was a perfect day and nothing went wrong, but one never knows. A twisted ankle can change everything.

IMG_6184

Massive cedars and their branch latticework

Our visit to Alton Collins was pleasant and I would recommend it for other groups as well. The accommodations were fine, the food was better, and the lawn was spectacular.  There was some serious croquet at one point, along with a diverse talent show.  I forced a couple poems on the unsuspecting audience, but the highlights of the evening included the amazing singing of two women, the manic energy of a young thespian, and a lovely Norwegian jokester.

In the morning, before we concluded our business, I went for a walk alone on a trail along Spring Creek.  I walked slowly, listening to birds, noticing the way light hit tree trunks and crowns.  Interestingly, I found a series of snails along the trail.  I am accustomed to seeing slugs on Oregon trails, but this seemed unusual.

Snail city: one of seven or eight in fifty yards

Snail city: one of seven or eight in fifty yards

The light in the forest was spectacular all weekend.  I wish I had the photographic skills to better capture the interplay of light and moss, branch and leaf.   At times, it was stunning.

Fungi on the "Easy" trail near the retreat center

Fungi on the “Easy” trail near the retreat center

When it was time to pack my bags and depart, I was ready to leave the forest retreat, thinking always of bigger hikes, but also very content with what I’d experienced, my personal batteries recharged.

Looking up and enjoying the scale of tree and sky

Such scales of tree and sky

Hamilton Mountain is Gorges (take that, Ithaca)

Columbia River Gorge

The western end of the Columbia River Gorge is home to many fine destinations. One of them is the Hamilton Mountain Trail in Beacon Rock State Park.  My friend Rich and I headed out there yesterday on an unusually warm February day.  As soon as we arrived, I realized that warmth would be tempered by a typical Gorge wind.

The trailhead was full of cars, so I knew this would not be a solitary wilderness experience.  No worries.  I had done the trail years ago with my wife during the summer, and I knew there were some great views.   It offered a two thousand foot vertical gain, which seemed solid, but not extreme, even in February.

We started up the trail quickly, and I found myself puffing pretty hard.  Soon however, Rich started having problems with his feet, and our pace slowed. He taped up his heel and donned different socks, and we continued.

Falls above the trail

Falls above the trail

Hardy Falls was a nice first stop on the route.  Rodney Falls was above the trail, while Hardy was below.

Hardy Falls

Hardy Falls

There were multiple platforms from which to take photos, although it was nigh impossible to catch a clean look at the longest drop.

Lovely stream between cascades

Lovely stream between cascades

The trail climbed in earnest after a junction above the falls.  We opted for the shorter route with more switchbacks.

Cliffs we would have to skirt on our ascent

Cliffs we would have to skirt on our ascent

Rock formations soon loomed above, and after some sweat, we were atop a steep promontory surveying the gorge.  There were another ten people in the same area, including a woman whose snappy comments to her kids suggested she was afraid of heights.  There was, indeed, a long drop if you really took a misstep, but we felt safe.

Looking toward Bonneville Dam

Looking toward Bonneville Dam

Crowded viewpoint

Crowded viewpoint

Narrow cleft. Note my shadow

Looking down a narrow cleft. Note my shadow.

That spot was spectacular enough to be a destination for the less motivated, but we continued.  There were more tremendous views, mostly to the south and west.   At one point, we stopped for a drink and snack at a grassy spot looking over a steep drop to a mossy talus slope, a second tier of cliffs to the east.

Looking

Looking down to Beacon Rock

Upper tier of cliffs

Upper tier of cliffs

Shortly thereafter, we fell into line with a large group when the trail became intermittently covered in snow.

Two runners passed us, the second one of whom wore no shirt.  I told him he was an “animal.”  He grinned and said “you too.” We both knew better.  Still, in five minutes we were all atop the breezy peak.  It was crowded, but the views were spectacular, with Adams to the northeast and Hood to the south, the river below, and snow-covered foot hills everywhere, notably Table Mountain and its impressive cliffs.  I could see the outline of  Angel’s Rest to the west and Wind Mountain to the east, fondly recalling my recent hikes there.

Crowded summit

Crowded summit

Hamilton MOuntain

Rich on the summit

Mount Adams

Mount Adams beyond Table Mountain

The descent was much faster than the ascent, and we joked about how sore our quads would be. This is a first class hike with unique geological features and truly stellar views, offering weekend warriors a great workout, even when there is snow on the last section of trail.

Descending

Descending

Do not slip.  Fractured fins found on the way down

Fractured fins we found just off the trail on descent

Once back down on flat ground, we stopped for a beer in Stevenson, a quaint hamlet a few miles east.  Walking Man Brewpub was jammed, so we opted for the nearby Big River Grill.  It turned out to be a fine choice itself, with a fun atmosphere, notable for many old personalized license plates decorating the walls, along with other outdoor memorabilia, such as a sturgeon painting, cross country skis, snowshoes, vintage signs, and a crosscut saw.  The Walking Man IPA was delicious, and the sturgeon spread we shared was excellent too.  Ahhh.

Later, as we headed home to our city lives, I felt very satisfied.  Topping it all off as we drove by Beacon Rock was the one of the most spectacular pink and purple sunsets I ever have seen.  What a day, and what a place!

Bucket List Worthy: Matterhorn and Sacagawea

For hikers, the Wallowa Mountains are one of the most stunning areas in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s a land of rocky 9000 foot peaks, emerald lakes, and long lush river valleys dotted with meadows.  I went there in August for some peakbagging and camped at Ice Lake after bagging a minor peak my first day.

View from Ice Lake. Note the different sections of rock. Gray granite, red volcanic rock, and whitish limestone

My sights were set on the two highest peaks in the area, Sacagawea and Matterhorn, which are connected by a narrow ridge.   I’d read on Summitpost about the traverse between the peaks, and it sounded amazing.  The route was almost completely above treeline, would involve scrambling, and there would be spectacular views.  For me, it might be a bucket-list-worthy adventure.

I woke early and set out, my legs a bit leaden as I climbed away from the lake.  I needed coffee, but I plodded onward and upward without it, the Matterhorn’s massive slopes of white limestone enticing me, juxtaposed with a reddish rock apparently volcanic in nature.  Amazing stuff.

A limestone tongue interrupts the rusty hues of the Hurwal Divide. My final descent was just out of the picture to the left.

Two thirds of the way up, the rest of the route became clear, and I took time to rest.  As I sat, two people passed me.  I felt slow, old, and out of shape, even after a good summer of hiking.  The mountain was humbling me.  Soon, I was hiking diagonally up a steep reddish slope denuded of vegetation, a gulf opening up to my right.  Then I crested a ridge of sorts and got views to the south.  From there, it was a rocky scramble up limestone.

Looking past Matterhorn to Point 9775, the gendarme ridge, and Sacagawea

The man and woman who had passed me were standing on one of two summit points, so I joined them.  She had started from the Wallowa Lake trailhead at six a.m., hiking eleven or twelve miles with five thousand feet of elevation gain in under four hours.  Impressive. When I found out she was a Forest Service wilderness ranger, it all made sense.  After we exchanged pleasantries, the others headed down, while I sighted down the long ridge north toward Sacagawea.  The adventure really began here, where the trail ended.

As I descended, I found fist to football-sized rocks of a basaltic nature scattered like rust-colored sprinkles on the limestone.

Sam Cooke might sing, “Don’t know much about geology…”

There were also little limestone benches that almost seemed like sculptures.  Truly strange geology.

Funky limestone bench. Part of Eagle Cap and Needle Point in the background.

After bypassing a subpeak on the ridge, I wound my way through, around, and over various gendarmes on the ridge, steep drop offs on either side.   The going was more complicated than expected.  I had to choose my route and use my hands more than expected, so  I tucked my trekking poles behind my back and tried to think of myself as a mountain goat—okay, an aging one with a spare tire.   It worked.

Alien hiker shadow

Looking back toward Matterhorn from the gendarme ridge

One of the many gendarmes. Probably twenty five high. Sacagawea summit in background.

I cleared the gendarmes in fifty minutes and soon was atop Sacagawea’s rockpile summit, where the sublime view opens up to the north and the colorful slopes of Twin Peaks and Chief Joseph Mountain.  Where I’d felt old earlier, I was an ecstatic kid now.  It was not yet noon and I’d bagged my second peak of the day.  Woo hoo!

Sacagawea’s east ridge scramble lines right up with Chief Joseph Mountain

I signed the summit register, then relaxed on a perfect throne rock while I ate, drank, and contemplated my place in the universe.   And it was good.  I wondered if anybody would scale the East Ridge from the Thorp Creek Valley below, but nobody appeared.  In fact, I hadn’t felt such solitude in years.   I could have stayed up there for hours, but I also like to move, and move I did.

I wanted to vary my descent route so I could avoid re-climbing the Matterhorn summit block. Instead, I’d drop down the east ridge of Point 9775, then descend the massive scree slopes to the south.

Point 9775 on the right from Sacagawea. My descent would drop down the east ridge toward the dark  area on the left, then plunge off the backside.

Clambering over the gendarmes felt trickier in reverse, confirming that it was not for the inexperienced or those who fear heights.  I also found Point 9775 to be a fine summit, perched as it is between Matterhorn and Sacagawea, with great looks at Hurwal Divide to the east and Hurricane Divide to the west.

The descent from Point 9775. Compare with the third picture on this post (from the Matterhorn ascent).

The start of the descent was tricky, the surface constantly shifting from solid limestone to loose basalt chunks to ball-bearing scree over limestone, and finally a long slope of just sandy scree where I could move quickly.  Near the bottom, a flash of white caught my eye.  Mountain goats!  I tried to get close enough for good photos, but they kept moving, clambering from the wildflower basin onto a limestone crag.  It felt like the perfect ending to my adventure.

“We don’t need no stinking rope,” sayeth the goats.  Steeper than it looks.

I returned to my tent about two p.m., pleased with the day’s travels.  It seemed amazing that I’d covered so much ground, and it was all great hiking and challenging scrambling with stunning views.  I would recommend the off trail section of the route only for confident scramblers, while trail hikers can still bag Matterhorn by itself.  Either way, you can’t lose in the heart of the Wallowas.  My hunch was right.  These peaks definitely provide bucket-list worthy adventure, even for aging mountain goats.

Wallowa Lake, Craig Mountain, and the miles between

Wallowa Lake curls slightly, like an index finger beckoning travelers to stop and play.  Just a mile south of the quaint town of Joseph, Oregon, the lake acts as gateway to the Wallowa Mountains, nicknamed the Alps of Oregon by a tourist commission genius somewhere.

Looking south down Wallowa Lake in a soft twilight.

A county park geared toward waterplay sits at the north end of the lake, complete with a swimming area, boat access, and picnicking.  The backdrop is spectacular, a photo-worthy view into the mountains to the south, the massive wall of Chief Joseph Mountain to the west, and a high glacial moraine to the east.

At the far end of the lake, there is a forested resort area centered around Wallowa Lake State Park.   The area has camping, lodges and cabins, the cheesiness known as miniature golf, and access to the hiking trails that lead into the Eagle Cap Wilderness.  There is even a tram that leads to the top of Mount Howard.   It makes me wish I had more time.

Prize view overlooking the county park

Alas, I’d arrived in the evening, with little time to hike, so I scoped out the trailhead, had a nice meal at a Mexican restaurant in Joseph, then caught a spectacular sunset at the lake.  Afterward I found a room and went through my gear, almost panicking when I briefly misplaced my camera.  Goofball.

Amped up, I pored over the map before falling asleep. Ice Lake was about a nine mile hike, in its own basin separate from the more popular lakes at the foot of Eagle Cap.  I finally zonked out, and when I woke, I quickly packed, then cruised to the trailhead, where I got front row parking.  A good omen, I thought.

Morning light on the slopes above Wallowa Lake State Park

I have a few gulps of water, fill out a wilderness permit, and start hiking.  I haven’t done the full backpack gig in a couple years, and I move a bit slowly. The pack feels heavier than I’d hoped, but I’m pleased to be hiking before 7 a.m.  I have a lot of daylight for hiking, and it looks like a gorgeous day.

The first hour is casual.  Then the Ice Lake trail splits off.  While it’s not steep, it’s relentlessly uphill with way too many switchbacks for my liking.  I rest beneath a tree at one point, and a deer comes close to munch vegetation, eyeballing me curiously.

Bambi is not afraid of me

After paying for my views with sweat, I crest the final hill, arriving at Ice Lake shortly after 11 a.m., tired but pleased.  The lake sits in a tremendous bowl surrounded on three sides by peaks, varied in appearance, comprised of a variety of rock: limestone, granite, and basalt.

Craig Mountain over Ice lake

After relaxing, hydrating, and munching, I set up camp.  Afterward, I realize I still have a lot of daylight.  Could I climb a peak today?  I contemplate the map and spy Craig Mountain to my southeast, the peak lurking above me on the second half of the hike. It’s a humbler peak, but still worthy at over 9000 feet, and it seems feasible.

Craig Mountain from my campsite: an obvious choice

At two p.m., I set off around the lake toward an obvious approach gully to the mountain.  I soon find myself scrambling up tremendous slabs of granite, winding through dusty scree slopes.  The slopes get steeper, and I use my hands on occasion.  In an hour I reach the crest of an east-west ridge dotted with rock outcroppings and dense stubby pines.

A rocky ridge

I soon get views of Eagle Cap, Cusick, Pete’s Point and more. To continue upward, I must thrash my way through very tight trees.  It is not pleasant.  At one point I am ready to retreat, but I find more open ground south of the ridge crest, along with awesome views.

Eagle Cap in the distance, snow still on its flanks

Lots of rock hopping or scrambling ensues,but the route is clear, and I top out in less than ninety minutes from the lake.  Craig’s summit is small and rocky, with views in all directions. I relax and snap some photos, then manage to send a text to my wife and stepson (whose middle name happens to be Craig).  It is warm, and from above, Ice Lake looks swim-worthy.

The fantastic surroundings of Ice Lake from Craig Mountain

Descending, I take my chances with scree gullies rather than fight the pines again. There are moments I need to downclimb granite for ten feet or float down a fifty degree slope of sand mixed with occasionally solid rock.   My descent is faster, but it is not without a few pucker-factor moments, and while I am happy to have climbed the peak, the route will not make my top ten list.

After a leisurely exploration of the lake’s lush shoreline, various tiny waterfalls and granite crags, swimming calls.

Inlet stream on south side of Ice Lake.  Stress evaporates in this scenery.

It has been a good day, and I enjoy the onset of evening.  I even see a single meteor blaze down the night sky.  I’m not usually one for omens, but what the heck, I’ll take it.