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Family Fun on Flume Knob

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.

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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.

 

Finally: Tomlike Mountain

Mount Adams from afar

Mount Adams from afar

I first noticed Tomlike Mountain on a backpacking trip decades ago.  For a modest peak in the northern Oregon Cascades, it was wild-looking. For some reason, I skipped Tomlike on my way to Benson Plateau.  I found great views elsewhere but always wondered what I’d missed. On Labor Day of 2015, I found out.  Yes, it was worth the wait–and the drive.

A long hike up Herman Creek or some other point 45 miles or so from Portland would make the climb a solid twenty mile round trip.  My gray hairs would need an extra day to recover from that. No thanks.  A longer drive to Wahtum Lake cut the hike by more than half.  It seemed a no brainer, so packed a bag and headed for Hood River.  When I finally got to the trailhead, a few clouds hung overhead, and the brush in the lower elevations was still wet.  I had to hope the clouds would clear.  The walking was easy, as the trail arced around Wahtum Lake to meet with the PCT.  I found no hikers until I neared the Tomlike herdpath peeled off of the Herman Creek Trail.

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Shortly after departing the main trail, the forest started opening up, the surface vegetation diversified, and the trail got rougher.  This is not an official path, but it is relatively easy to follow.  There is some thick brush, a few dead end spurs, and some rocky patches.  It’s exactly the kind of hiking I enjoy–especially when the views started getting sublime.  Herman Creek’s large canyon dropped away to the right, with the tiny puddle of Mud Lake at its base and rockslides scarring the canyon walls.  As I climbed, I got a few views towards the summit, but it was a long and winding path to get there.

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The views continued astonishing me when I was fully above treeline.  I enjoyed views in all directions, gawking back at Mount Hood’s majesty as well as tracing with my eye the route I’d followed years before to Chinidere Mountain and the obvious pancake spot of Benson Plateau along the mighty PCT. To the north, over the shoulder of a far ridge, the impressive mass of Mount Adams loomed in a fresh white coat of snow. I continued climbing, huffing and puffing just a bit.  Tomlike Mountain’s summit was quiet and calm.  I’d thought I’d need my jacket, but I remained in shirtsleeves.  I contemplate the massive drop off to the west that felt like the escarpment on a much larger peak.

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As always, I was supremely content while sitting on that summit.  THe views, the air, the earth beneath me all seemed so right. I had to get up for work at six a.m. the following day.  There were bills to pay and chores to complete.  For a few hours, however, not a bit of that mattered.  The world was wild and beautiful and I was close to its essence.  The movement of muscle, bone and tendon over mountain terrain is still invigorating even as it fatigues me more than in decades past.  Tomlike Mountain charged my batteries for the week.  This was a very satisfying hike.

On the way back, a different look at the lake

On the way back, a different look at the lake

Descending a minor peak can be boring, especially when one is tired.  That’s one reason I took a  variation, the Anthill Trail, to return to my vehicle.  Thankfully I was rewarded with a couple final wonderful photos opportunities.  This is definitely an area to explore, with several other minor peaks nearby.  For now, however, it’s back to work.

The light on these reddish bushes suggested autumn was coming

A final bit of sunlight told me autumn was coming

Patuxent Research Refuge Ramble

While visiting the East Coast, I found time to get out and stretch my legs.   This spot in Laurel, Maryland, just miles from the D.C. Beltway, is a great spot for a mellow hike with big rewards.  Go early to void the humidity, and beware of ticks.  Jackie Chan the wonderdog found out about them the hard way, despite being on leash the entire time.IMG_6531

Interestingly, the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge, established in 1936 by President or Roosevelt, is the only “National Wildlife Refuge established to support wildlife research.”  For some reason, the U.S. Geological Survey does most of the research now.  Whatever works.

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I’d heard there were hiking trails, but I didn’t know where to start.  My internal compass had me follow a sign to the South Tract and the parking lot for the visitor’s center.  I wasn’t sure if Jackie would be allowed, so my expectations were low as I drove through the gate.  I also was prepared to pay an entrance fee, but it was free.  Hard to grumble about taxes at times like that.

Cool bark

Cool bark

The visitor center had ample parking. The day was quite sunny and already close to 80 degrees, so I found a semi-shady spot.   As I got Jackie out of the car, I noticed a trail starting not fifty feet away, right on the edge of the entrance drive.  It had brochures and maps (with scannable bar code option) at a small kiosk .  The Fire Road Trail led through a flat forest of deciduous trees and little undergrowth, although there were some berry bushes by the trail.

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I had flashbacks to hiking in the Adirondacks, but this was too flat to truly compare.  The trail wanders between the entrance road and the exit road, crossing the latter after half a mile. It then goes into the woods and crosses an old powerline road, soon reaching a junction at the Valley Trail and the Laurel Trail.  Jackie loved all of this section,. sniffing away and checking out the sounds of the forest.

Jackie searching the source of bird noise or squirrel chirp

Jackie Chan searching the source of bird noise or squirrel chirp

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I appreciate the excellent signage

It’s possible to follow the Laurel Trail to Goose Pond and beyond it, the visitors center.   A longer route along the Valley Trail heads to the end of nearby Cash Lake, where at least one heron was hanging out on a piling, and red winged blackbirds sang in the marsh grasses.  The sun was high and sweat was rolling.

Bridge by end of Cash Lake

Bridge by end of Cash Lake

A few fishermen were at the foot of Cash Lake, where there is a fishing pier and access to the shore on the far side.  The far end of the pier is accessible by car or truck.  The trail continues on the far side of the lake, but it has seasonal closures for bird nesting, and it was closed when I was there.

Cash Lake

Cash Lake

The return leg along the northern part of the lake also closes a nice loop, eventually meeting the Goose Pond trail and emerging right near the visitor center, across the parking lot from our start.

The fishing pier

The fishing pier

A large group of Canada Geese were slowly swimming through some Monet-invoking water lilies.   At first they’d seemed to be in stealth mode.  I counted at least 70 geese.

Monet, anyone?

Monet, anyone?

Spy geese...

A few of the spy geese…

There were a couple nice spots to observe birds, the water, as well as the flora in the area.

Along the edge of Cash Lake on the way back.

Along the edge of Cash Lake on the way back

All told, I hiked around three miles, and it was well worth the time.  I had to spend some time pulling ticks off Jackie and research Lyme Disease (almost unheard of in the Northwest), but I would still highly recommend the Patuxent Research Refuge for a casual hike.  With more time and fewer ticks, the visitor center would surely have been a great complement to the hike.

Memories of Dad

For Guthrie Baker, 1932–1982

Father’s Day is always a unique experience for me. I have a wonderful stepson, but my own father died when I was 17. While we did not have a perfect relationship, I try always to focus on the good memories, which often involved being outdoors. Dad was a former Marine and a Princeton graduate. He played sports into college and grew up hunting and fishing. He was tall, dark, and handsome too, so the bar was set high for me.

On top of East Zigzag Mountain, Mt. Hood’s doorstep, Sierra Cup as codpiece, 1980.

When I was young, the family spent time in the Adirondack Mountains, in a spot Mother had grown up visiting: Keene Valley, home of the high peaks. Small by western standards, the Adirondacks are rocky and rough peaks. Many peaks do not have formal trails. One of my earliest memories is watching the back of Dad’s legs as we clambered up a steep rocky trail to the summit of Noonmark Mountain. It is so named for its spot in relation to town. When the sun passed over the peak, it was approximately noon. As Dad and I hiked, he really appeared to be above me, a god of sorts. I was not yet five years old.

Memories are imperfect, but I have always looked to that climb as the start of my lifetime love of the mountains, and my father was the one who led me there. Keene Valley was my mother’s childhood vacation home, and her love of the area was infectious, but it was Dad who opened up the trails and peaks to me. Other peaks followed in the coming years, including a semi-epic overnighter on Mount Marcy with my sister Hannah, where we were beset by a storm shortly after descending from the rocky summit cone. As I grew up, I also hiked with a group, the ATIS (Adirondack Trail Improvement Society), but my trips with Dad were special.

Our family moved from New York to Oregon when I was 12, and I became a mountaineer as a teen, summiting volcanos and crags around the Northwest. I surpassed Dad in mountain experience, doing multiple weeklong backpacking trips in Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. The mountains were my life, and Dad seemed more distant, caught up in a struggling business. we continued  hiking, hiking to Burnt Lake, climbing small Cascade peaks like East Zigzag Mountain and Grizzly Peak.  He finally took a mountaineering course, climbing multiple major peaks in Oregon. It was one way we bonded, even as I was being a standard issue rebellious teen.

Dad showing off newly active Mt. St. Helens. Atop East Zigzag Mountain, 1980.

In September of 1980, we planned a climb of the South Sister. Somehow, in a comedy of errors, mostly my impetuous teenage fault, we were separated between the trailhead and parking lot. I realized there was a shortcut to the trail from the back corner of the parking lot, and I made foolish assumptions. I didn’t wait for him; I hiked onward, thinking he had taken the shortcut and was ahead of me and that I was supposed to catch up to him. When I didn’t find him along the trail or on the shores of Moraine Lake a couple miles later, I was at a loss, knowing I had screwed up. I searched for him to no avail. Dad had our tent, but I was able to rig a tarp as shelter, and spent a nervous night alone.

My shelter at Moraine Lake.

In the morning, I packed up and headed back toward the trailhead. Passing hikers already knew who I was. Dad had contacted the search and rescue team. The situation was both embarrassing, comic, and ultimately, reflective of his paternal love. My father could be gruff and tough, but he also was full of love, and he wanted nothing more than to protect me.

We had other adventures, and Dad continued exploring the mountains until a heart attack took his life while he jogged in the Portland hills on a February morning in 1982.

I believe that Dad loved the mountains as much as I do, that they were a place for him to relax and reflect as well as a place to have grand adventures. I have had many subsequent adventures and learned many lessons about life because of them. I only wish we could have had more of those experiences together. My father’s ashes were scattered over the noble Mount Hood. I miss him every day.