In the middle of a stretch of long days at work, it was nice to take a riverside walk with Denise and Jackie Chan the other day. It was another chance to play with my new camera as well. The weather was terrific, and we lucked out seeing a great blue heron as well as other waterbirds. The water level has risen with autumn rains, and the Willamette’s shore is very rocky, so we had to pick our path with care. We didn’t go far, but a short trip in nature is always a good thing. Happy trails.
In the Baker family, when one wants to check out an area with which we are not familiar, we say that we are “‘vestigating.” A gray Sunday seemed like the perfect time for such an outdoor ‘vestigation that offered possibilities for photographic endeavors. My new Sony DSC HX400v was calling my name, as I am still less than adept at its various controls and menus. My friend Hamid was game for a hike, and he knows more about photography than me. Winning!
Kellogg Lake is a major geographical feature in the Milwaukie area, yet few people see it unless they live in certain spots or ride the light rail train, which crosses the outlet from an elevated perspective. Elsewhere, it is hard to view the water. A modest trail network descends a hillside behind the Presbyterian Church. I’d heard of this but had no good information. So Hamid and I explored, trying first this route and then that. There is plenty of walking to be had for a small area, spur trails going out both sides of a small peninsula, where we checked out waterbirds, foliage, and views across the lake. We kept spooking an egret who was close to us on a few occasions. I was never fast enough on the shutter to catch it in flight, but I did find it from afar. Magnificent bird.
Rain started coming down in earnest after we hit the far end of the lake, and although we saw a heron and enjoyed the different vantage points, there was less to explore there, so we adjourned to the Beer Store Milwaukie, which is also a restaurant and bottle shop. I opted for Ninkasi’s seasonal ale, Sleigh’r. Hamid got a stout. It’s tough to go wrong with 15 rotating taps. We enjoyed lots of interesting conversation about art, music, friends, and the circuitous paths our lives had taken, topping off a very pleasant afternoon.
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.
In a shocking development, I went for a walk last Sunday. The weather was iffy, so I stayed close to home, and I was able to find another pleasant place to leg stretch close to the city. Canemah Bluff is located above the Willamette River at the south end of Oregon City. In the 19th century, pioneers settled there and established their own community, which predicated its economy on people who necessarily portaged around nearby Willamette Falls as they headed up or down the Willamette. The town was eventually annexed by Oregon City in the 1920s. It is still a lovely area, and the Children’s Park (no, I didn’t go down the slide) is a great place to start a walk. A small network of trails offers a few different options depending on your ambition and interest. Like Mount Talbert and Powell Butte, they have nice signage and mini maps on posts at junctions.
One of the things about this area is that, historically, Native Americans conducted annual controlled burns, and this affected biodiversity. Unlike many areas in Northwest Oregon, the bluffs here offer broad wildflower meadows lined lots of oaks and madrone trees, as well as alder and cedar forested areas further uphill.
The walking was easy, and I found myself marveling at the great colors all around. Bright wildflowers abounded in the open areas, but the most amazing hues of all (and this on a gray day) were on the madrone trunks. In a couple photos, they seemed to almost glow a rusty color. Eventually, I caught a glimpse of a pioneer cemetery, then headed uphill on the Old Slide Trail. They were very pleasant woods to amble about. On that segment of trail, I found myself falling into arty photography, noticing the symmetry in a certain fern’s fronds, a stand of deciduous trees, even the perfectly placed bee in the center of a flower. I have found that taking a great photo gives me a great deal of pleasure, but there is nothing like a good walk. Happy hiking, everyone.
My week of vacation was coming to a close. My visiting mother had left for the east coast, and I had to get back to the grind on Monday. One last hike. My target was a short hike to a waterfall southeast of the metro area. Abiqua Falls is near Silver Falls State Park, but more remote. Given the spotty weather and the below average access road, I was surprised to see as many people as I did. That seems to be a theme for me. I should probably stop being surprised. Recreating in the outdoors is more popular than ever, and in the Pacific Northwest, hiking to waterfalls is a great way to do that.
The trail is actually on private land, so don’t abuse the access privilege. Almost immediately, the path crosses over what looks like part of a motocross track. There is a nice viewpoint off to the right, but don’t get distracted. The route stays left. At times it is steep and muddy. People have attached ropes to trees as handlines in multiple spots, which speaks to the popularity of the spot as well as the nature of the trail. I found that trekking poles handy. In a quarter mile or so, the trail emerges on the rocky shore of a creek. The falls are out of sight, but the canyon is so gorgous, so lush and green, I wasn’t focused on that yet. I meandered upstream and turned a corner to find the falls in a rocky amphitheatre, like a jewel set in the forest. Truly spectacular.
Abiqua Falls is a good sized drop, and the pool below is large. Mossy cliffs curve away on either sides, making for a unique sight. I took my time, as others seemed to do, to absorb all those negative ions. Mist on the lens spoiled a number of my photos, but it was hard not to get some great shots of this verdant world. I loved the rusty hue of some of the exposed rock and the clarity of the water below. Like a great summit, this was a spot I didn’t want to leave.
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.
It was a long week at work and I was exhausted, so I was slow moving yesterday morning. In the afternoon, however, D. and I headed out for a Gorge exploration in my new vehicle. We ended up hitting on a Gorge tick list of sorts, starting with the short hike to Bridalveil Falls, and ending in Hood River for a pint on a patio. We had our son’s new dog, which kept things interesting but fun. There were lots of clouds on the west end of the gorge, and we walked in the rain a bit at Bridalveil Falls, but we saw sunshine as we neared Hood River. At Starvation Creek Falls and Mitchell Point it seemed especially bright. It was a good afternoon and evening, reminding me how much I have to be thankful for. I am a lucky man, indeed.
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.