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Siouxon Rhymes with Tucson


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.



Cape Horn or bust!


Cape Horn is perched near the western end of the Columbia Gorge on the Washington side, of which I am becoming more enamored.   Trail pup Jackie Chan and I drove out there this morning hoping it wouldn’t be too cold.  The temp seemed okay, but after I passed Washougal, I could see branches swaying in a strong wind.  I knew it would be a factor.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

Jackie Chan is a black belt with orange sweater.

There is well-signed and appointed trailhead just off SR 14. (decent porta-potty on one side and an informative kiosk including a map on the other).   The wind was fairly screaming so I Jackie’s sweater on him (very preppy, I know) on and added a layer myself.   I knew up higher the wind chill would be worse.

The trail starts casually in a hardwood forest reminiscent of the Appalachians. Strangely, there were no Doug Firs or Western Red Cedars in sight. After   crossing a tiny creek, the frozen trail began switchbacking gradually up the slope.  It was not yet eleven, and the sun created shadows and interesting light effects behind the trees.

Cape Horn Forest

Lovely deciduous woods

I saw only one other hiker on the way up.  I wondered if I’d be by myself.   I did not push the pace but enjoyed the intermittent views through the trees. I tried to spy Hamilton Mountain or Larch Mountain, but that would have to wait.

Gifford Pinchot foothills

Peekaboo views to the north

Half an hour up, the trail came close to a powerline road, and I ducked into the open for a photo looking toward Silver Star and Baldy, where I’d been last August.  Snow started to appear on the ground in patches, but nothing like my Wind Mountain adventure a few weeks ago.

Silver Star Skamania County

Silver Star, Baldy, and friends

Finally I clambered up to the first couple of viewpoints.  The wind was in fine form, probably gusting between twenty five and forty miles per hour and there were a few icy spots.   The views from the first clifftop bluff were great, but the windchill was not inviting, so I moved on to a more secluded spot and took a few more photos, worried about Jackie the whole time.   He’s very bright, but he doesn’t exactly know what it means to fall down a cliff (Note to self: teach Jackie physics).  As I had other tasks to accomplish at home, I opted to head back to the car rather than push on to another viewpoint a mile ahead.  That could wait for spring.


Columbia River Gorge

Looking upriver into the haze

On the shady side of the ridge, there was more snow, and Jackie loved to romp in it.  He had been staying by my heels or just in front of me most of the time, but in the snow he got goofy.   I wish I could have captured his exuberance, but any time I pulled out the camera, he struck a serious pose.


I descended partway by the powerline road, which made a nice shortcut, and there I admired the crystallized snow and frost on plants.

cape horn powerline road

Plant matter’s winter coat on the dark side of the ridge

As it neared noon on my descent, I started passing people regularly, bundled up and smiling. Everyone was having a good time.  Well, we were smiling, because we’d left the worse of the wind behind.  Jackie was tuckered. He napped most of the way home, then tried to lick my face off while we waited for the Interstate Bridge to lower its deck.

The Cape Horn Trail has a loop, part of which is closed part of the year for peregrine falcon nesting.  That is the section below SR 14.  This is the closest significant trail to the Portland area on the Washington side of the Gorge, and it’s easy to find.  Those factors alone recommend it for weekend warriors, but it is a lovely spot as well, and the loop possibilities are intriguing.  Highly recommended.

Wind Mountain in the Sun


When I saw a sunny day forecast late December, I knew the hiking doldrums were over.  It was time to climb!  My goal was Dog Mountain, and my partner was my puppy Jackie.  Perfect.  Except the thermometer reading.

As I drove out the Columbia River Gorge, I realized there was more snow than expected.  Dog Mountain would have some healthy snow.  I modified my goal and opted for nearby Wind Mountain, which is just under 2000 feet.  The peak rises straight out of the Columbia River, its conical form obvious from Washington’s Highway 14.

I found the trailhead off the aptly-named Wind Mountain Road.  A sign pointed up Girl Scout Road, where I found a broad parking area at a saddle crusted in snow and icy puddles.  I was intrigued to find a boot scraper at the trailhead to prevent transplantation of invasive species.  A sign of things to come, perhaps.

I popped on a beanie before I left the car, and a few minutes up the trail I added gloves.  As the trail angled around the eastern flank of the peak, I hit patches of packed snow which made for slick walking.  I had to clamber over a number of downed logs, and under at least one, but it was manageable as long as I was careful.  I briefly regretted not having boot chains or microspikes.   Jackie had no problems thanks to his nails.


Naturally, with greater elevation came more snow, but it was drier snow and not as packed out; my boot lugs bit into it nicely.

The trail cut back on a ridge and meandered north beneath the summit cone, finally twisting south to the summit. There was a prominent sign about Native American rock work to beware and leave undisturbed.   It simply added another facet to the trip and the destination.


The views were great in multiple directions.  I had to scale a snowy crest to hit the summit proper, then I found a dry spot in some rocks, where I got some water and gaped at the massive southern wall of the gorge, Mount Defiance and its brethren enticing me.  To the east, Dog Mountain looked snowy indeed.


Looking down at the river, snowy tinted mountains rising steeply out of the mighty Columbia before me, I couldn’t help but feel satisfied.  Wind Mountain is nobody’s epic summit, but winter definitely made it interesting.


The sun warmed me even as a couple vision quest shelters nearby were cloaked in snow.  I’d felt wind most of the way up, but on the summit it eased and we were able to relax for a while.  What a day.  Jackie was a real trooper for only his second real summit. With this great reminder of the wonders in the Gorge, we will definitely have to return in the spring.

Silver Star Mountain: disoriented but dazzled

How I got so turned around enroute to Silver Star Mountain, I don’t know.  Perhaps it’s because I spent the night in a hotel.  Perhaps it’s because I had my stepson’s turntable fixed that morning (kudos to Audio Specialties Ltd. for the quick service) and then returned it.  Casey was happy, but I was leaving Portland for the Southwest Washington Cascades two hours late than planned.  Perhaps the trouble started when I ignored the detour sign for Washougal River Road.  It could have been the countless gravel switchbacks leading to the trailhead.  Maybe it was a simple but crucial navigational assumption as I set out.  After the fact, truly horrible signage in the area may have exacerbated the situation.  At any rate, I was forty plus minutes into my hike when I had a revelation: I was on the wrong trail.   Oops.

I need to go which way? Silver Star in the left background.

Frustrated, I headed back to the trailhead, ready to call it a wash.  Once there, however, I quickly realized my navigational mistake and found the right trail–on the other side of the road.  Doh!  It was almost three o’clock, and I wasn’t sure if I had time to reach the peak, but what the heck.  The Grouse Vista Trail headed uphill from the road, quickly veering to the right from the Tarbell Trail–without a sign.  In half an hour, the views picked up, ranging from Sturgeon Rock to the northwest to Pyramid Rock in the foreground, forested ridges climbing toward Silver Star’s summit.  Open wildflower slopes were reminiscent of Bald Mountain near Mount Hood.  This was more like it.


Pyramid Rock looms large along the Grouse Vista trail, Silver Star behind it to the left.

At an unmarked junction (notice a trend?) close to a saddle, I popped over the ridge to see an impressive view into the next drainage to the east.  I returned to the main trail and continued climbing in the heat of the afternoon.  The trail got rockier for a stretch before ducking back into the forest.  I passed two more junctions, the second of which was marked by a cairn.  I could almost smell the summit.  That’s when my phone blurted “Droid.”  Hmm.  Apparently I’d gained enough elevation to get cell service.


Washingtonian for ‘trail sign’

It was after four thirty, and I had a reminder text about a meeting I was supposed to attend.  Uh oh.  Did I mention things had not gone as planned?  I was at least three hours behind schedule now, and in all the hassle and sweat, I’d spaced my fire department officer’s meeting.  It was an hour down to my car and a ninety minute drive from there if all went well.  My head hurt, but I knew I was close, so I continued climbing–quickly.  Anger and guilt grew until I saw the stunning views from the top. Then for a few minutes, nothing else mattered.

The world falls away to the left.  Lower summit to the right.

The mountain fell away into a tremendous gorge, and the mostly open ridge beyond was spectacular.  This did not seem like a peak under 4500 feet.   Views were far ranging, stretching to Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and beyond. The rich green of the grasses contrasted with the tan of the ashy soil, the soft afternoon light, and the deep gorge below.  It all added up to a gorgeous view from one of the more dramatic small peaks I have seen in the West.

View to the east from Silver Star’s summit.

A man and a woman in their thirties chatted on top, looking very relaxed.  We talked for a few minutes, discussing where to hike on Mount Hood besides Ramona Falls and Mirror Lake (try Palmateer Point).  I took some photos, then turned around, driven by self-imposed guilt to race back, even if it was too late to rectify my mistakes.  As I plunged back down the hill without sitting for a moment, the pair probably thought I was a tad wacked. Truth hurts.


Looking roughly north from the summit

I flew downhill as fast as my stub factor legs will go, alternately checking my watch and my phone, meanwhile trying to avoid numerous rocks and roots.  I finally got service two thirds of the way down. I quickly called the chief and offered an apology, knowing I would not make it by that point.  As always, he took it in stride.  This was not an emergency, just a mistake.


Even when stressed, pause to admire beauty

To put it in the context of the world’s most interesting man, I don’t always make mistakes, but when I do, I make the greatest mistakes.  Seriously, the dazzling views made everything worthwhile, and because I was so late, I timed it perfectly to meet my wife for dinner near the airport.   Serendipity lives.  Hey, there are plenty of meetings in this life, but there is never enough time for the people you love.

SS Trailhead

Go that way. Trust me.

Next Week:   Part one of a trip to the Wallowas