Category Archives: Rocky terrain
Amid a lot of literal and figurative cloudy weather, I found the perfect golden window other day for a walk. Nothing like leg stretching and photography experiments in the sun to make me feel better about the world. Okay, a mountain top would beat it, but hey. Rocks, moss, leaves, a passing seaplane, wings of a dove, er, seagull, and my boy Jackie Chan. Seeing him cut loose on a beach would prompt a smile from the biggest curmudgeon. All is right with the world. Well, mostly.
Alaska is large. Who knew? It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day. And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way. We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings. It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country. I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short. Alaska is its own world.
The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska. And there’s more. Lots more. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage. Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas. No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience. More to come.
My first trip to Alaska didn’t last nearly long enough. That said, my wife planned a heck of a trip in a tight time window. We flew late at night from Portland to Anchorage. After a few hours sleep, we ate breakfast at a nearby café which included reindeer sausage. Yep. Soon enough we had a rental car and headed north. Talkeetna, here we come. As soon as we passed the city limits, mountains loomed to the north and east. The forests were not as dense as those I am accustomed to in Oregon and Washington. The hemlocks and spruces were lovely, but on the small side. No matter. The scale of the land itself was cause for celebration. We stopped at a few different spots and saw stunning vistas. Mountains, lakes, wildlife and cute towns. I envisioned a hundred hikes on that two hour drive.
We arrived in Talkeetna a bit earlier than expected, and I moved up a flightseeing trip as a result. Twist my arm. Ten of us flew in a small plane courtesy of Talkeetna Air Taxi north to the Alaska Range. From the braided Susitna River to the Ruth Glacier and a fly by of big peaks, I was in heaven. We landed high on a glacier and gawked for fifteen minutes. Immaculate snowy peaks with massive cliffs were everywhere. The weather was perfect for us, if a bit warm for alpinists. For a mountain lover, this was almost a surreal experience, a bucket list trip to be sure.
Back in Talkeetna, Denise and I grubbed at Denali Brewing’s patio on a warm evening. They had a nice beer selection and great food. Mostly I remember the peanut butter pie. After exploring the town a bit more, including some unique street vendors, we retired to our room in the quaint Roadhouse. A nap was in order, but shortly after 11 p.m., we got up and headed out in search of the Aurora Borealis. We found it nearby. My photos are not great, but I include one for reference. Interestingly, there is a firm in Talkeetna that offers lesson on how to take photos the northern photos. Next time I will bring a better camera and take that lesson.
Not bad for one day. Look for more photos soon, including some of spectacular hiking in Denali National Park. Happy hiking.
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.
When earlier this year a cousin did a short post about Flume Knob in New York’s Adirondack Mountains, my curiosity was piqued. It is far from a major peak, but it offers great views for a modest effort. What’s not to like? So when my wife and I returned to the Empire State for a mini family reunion last week, Flume Knob was on my mind.
The Adirondacks are a huge area. The mountains are not high, but they make up for that in ruggedness. Any given trail will feature rocks and roots and varying degrees of steep factor. Some are fairly brutal. (I’m looking at you, south side of Haystack!) Flume Knob is on the easier side of the difficulty continuum.
The namesake of the peak is a rocky narrows of the West Fork of the Ausable River. I was impressed with that before we’d set foot on the trail. The beginning of the trail, meandering through the Wilmington Wild Forest, barely climbed at all. It was crossed by mountain biking loops at regular intervals, though we saw no bikes. The quiet woods and easy grade made it easy to chat. Then the trail got more serious, and we climbed over rock and log, and up steep root-seamed dirt, to multiple false summits. Occasional ledges offered sunny views of the green blanketed valley and distant rocky peaks and let us catch our breath.
Eventually we all made it to the rocky nub of a summit, in the shadow of mighty Whiteface Mountain, two time site of the Winter Olympic skiing. Lunch, talk, bees, and photos were the order of the moment. Smiles came easily, and I took what was perhaps the sweetest mother-daughter shot I’ve ever taken.
We lolled about on top for a while, enjoying the sun. It was hard to leave the view, but we did, and walked down with care over the steep pitches. Back at the bottom, we looked at the namesake flume from the bridge on Route 86. The river shoots through an impressive rocky slot, below which is a popular swimming hole. If you can avoid the flying critters (a yellow jacket on top wanted my sandwich), the Adirondacks offer a wealth of outdoor pleasures.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Today I had to get out of the house, and I was lucky enough to hike with Jackie Chan. We visited Elk Rock Island, as I had the other day, but the weather was very different. It was dry but gray and cool. I found a new spot to scramble on mossy rocks that’s out of the way. Jackie was pretty excited about a sandy spot among the rocks, but he was content sniffing everything in the woods, too, including some very cool small ferns. Unfortunately, his mere presence seemed to spook some crows as I was trying to get a better shot of a large group of them. Does any reader know why it’s called a murder of crows? Enjoy the photos.