Category Archives: Solo Hiking
They’re not actually called the Misty Moody Mountains, but the description fit on a gray day above Whittier. The rain came early and stopped. My regular trail pants got soaked from brushing against dripping trailside bushes, and made me wish I had my rain paints. Oh well. The trail did not get close to the waterfall I was attempting to spy up close, but the hike was beautiful anyway. Don’t you agree?
I just wanted to get out of the city on a hot afternoon. Without meaning to, however, I found a series of tiny cascades in the Columbia River Gorge. The primary trail I hiked ends in a nice spot, but ever inquisitive, I wanted to see what was around the corner. I continued up the bedrock of the stream. There were a couple of herd paths around logs and tiny cliffs, but it was almost as easy to clamber over rocks and logs, or simply hike in the very shallow water. Every turn offered a new gorgeous scene, with water, rock, greenery, and sky all vying for my attention.
Many of the spots seemed more dramatic due to the volcanic rock over which the water flowed, and on which I trod. Eventually, I sat on a mossy boulder at one point and simply took it all in, walking down only after I’d enjoyed the quiet canyon for almost an hour. It may seem strange to not mention the name of the trail, but I’d like to keep this a hidden gem. What about you? Do you have special places in the wild you would prefer to keep secret?
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.
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.
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.
These flowers on the flanks of mighty Mount Talbert were one of the highlights of a pair of afternoon walks I took today. They remind me of avalanche lilies, but it could be another species. There were other lovely flowers too, which surprised me given how wooded the area is. I did not hike very far. I just wanted to get a good sniff of nature. Everyone should do that now and again.
Besides Mount Talbert, I also checked out Minthorn Natural Area, a small wetland area close to home. It was not exactly pristine but I enjoyed seeing mallards and Canada geese with a train of goslings (no Ryans, sorry). There were also signs of homeless camps, but I chose to ignore them. The weather actually got nicer after I was done walking, and I thought about hitting a third spot for walking, but my hunger go the best of me. It usually does. Time to cook. Happy Sunday.
Hmm. Maybe after dinner I could walk along the river….
On any weekend with good weather, Cannon Beach tends to be swarmed by tourists, yet the area scenery is always peaceful and soothing. The ocean itself feels like an endless well of calm and inspiration. I enjoy staring at the shifting swells and breaking waves, the combination of scenery and the audible whish and splash of waves and the calls of seabirds making a truly unique spectacle. Westward lies a range of possibilities. Back in reality, I wanted to take a few modest walks right there, on the sand and in the forest. The weather even cooperated surprising for the Oregon Coast in early spring.
We rented a cottage near the beach and a quick walk showed an awesome sunset on display. Inhale that marine air! The next day, after hanging out with family for a few hours, I wanted to find a nearby hike and avoid repeating earlier endeavors. Once again, the internet was my friend. A quick search found a state park I didn’t know.
Multiple sites refer to Haystack Hill State Park, but I find no mention of it on the Oregon State Parks web page. Regardless, Haystack Hill is located roughly midway through Cannon Beach, climbing to a highpoint I’d previously missed. The acreage was supposedly donated to the state for preservation, and there has been no development beyond an unsigned trail which climbs the quarter mile to the top of the hill, then splits in a couple directions. I found a few unique views looking down on famous Haystack Rock. I also enjoyed some awesome trees and lush ground cover. What a great find.
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.
It’s Super Bowl Sunday, and I’m waiting for the game with hours to kill. The weather is spectacular for February in Cascadia. Must be time for a hike! I have been fairly lazy about getting my hiking fixes lately, focusing more on other writing and creative endeavors (follow me on Instagram) but I was happy to hit Forest Park today with my canine pal, Jackie Chan. The parking areas on Germantown Road were packed, which is normal on a weekend, especially when the weather is nice. I parked on the shoulder and headed down a nearby fire lane. People flock to the Wildwood Trail, but there is a lot more solitude on most Fire Lanes in Forest Park. Fire Lane 10 dives down the side of a canyon, crossing a nice little creek. Everything is green, which is more spectacular when the mossy edge of a tree limb are backlit.
Beyond the creek, there is some work to do. The fire lane climbs to the Linnton Trail, where I started seeing other hikers or runners. The Linnton Trial is not too steep, but it’s all uphill for about a mile until it meets the Wildwood Trail. From there I could meander back towards Germantown Road and my car. Now I’m ready for the game. Go Broncos!