Blog Archives

Snow Stroll in the Hood

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A tiny island in the Sandy River

On Sunday, I returned to my old stomping grounds at the foot of Mt. Hood with bittersweet feelings.  First, I attended a celebration of life for a long time community volunteer and fine man.  I was able to visit many of my former fire department brethren.  Then it was time to go.  I had no plan, but wanted a walk in the woods knowing there would be snow nearby. Less than two miles up Lolo Pass road, snow was starting to pile up on the side of the road.  Hmm.  Could be interesting, I thought, especially without four wheel drive.   I pieced a pullout near the Sandy River and tromped through the woods.  There was no goal but to get in touch with nature.  It felt good.  Just what I needed.

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Summertime Fire Danger Walking Blues

Looking at the swollen Sandy River

Looking at the swollen Sandy River

Sometimes I have to sneak in a nature fix.  This was the case when I left a party in my old mountain town to take a walk with Jack.  The Old Maid Flats area is one covered in ashy soil from a volcanic eruption dating to the late 18th century.  I love the groundcover that results. Nearby, the Sandy River was noisy and frothing with brown water.  There had been no rain, so this suggested that the glacier fed river was being inundated with snowmelt from high on Mount Hood.  High temperatures in the area show no sign of easing. With the fire danger high across much of the Pacific Northwest, I hope people will minimize the use of fireworks tomorrow, but I fear a number of wildland fires will be triggered.  It’s enough to make me blue, and as Eddie Cochran said, “there ain’t no cure” for that.  Oh, for some rain!

Finding Mudflow Evidence in Lost Creek

Cupcake stump remnants amid the cool waters of Lost Creek

Cupcake stump remnants amid the cool waters of Lost Creek

On Sunday, I visited an elderly friend in my former hometown near Mount Hood.  We enjoyed a delectable meal at the Resort at the Mountain, which offers some of the finest restaurant views I’ve ever seen.  Some people sat out on the large patio.  Even inside, there is a view over the golf course towards massive forested ridges which define the green Salmon River valley.  Not bad.  After our meal, we drove to the Lost Creek Campground.  This is often less crowded than other campsites in the region, and it also offers a short nature trail with interpretive signs.   Part of the path is paved, although the massive firs and cedars in the area have buckled some of the pavement.

The so called beaver pond, where, ironically, the view is now towards many alders that would have pleased the beavers.

The so called beaver pond, where, ironically, the view is now towards many alders that would have pleased the beavers.

It was fascinating to once again realize the power of volcanic eruptions and how it shaped the landscape. Volcanic mudflows emanating from Mount Hood in the 18th century changed the floor of the area ecosystem and preserved stumps of old trees right in the creek bed.  What a wild world.  At the end of the path, we sat on a bench in front an old  beaver pond.  The beavers have vanished in recent years, ostensibly to find better trees to eat.  I hadn’t been to Lost Creek in at least four or five years.  It’s a gorgeous, peaceful place to spend an afternoon with an old friend.

Oregon Cascade Streamwalking

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Here’s a little view into the gorgeous forest on the west side of Mount Hood where I took a walk with my wife recently along the Zigzag River. We started out on the Pioneer Bridle Trail and then veered off on an unofficial spur that cuts back along the riverbank.  The path is overgrown in spots, but that made it more adventurous.

Clackamas River Dead End Trail

Oh so tempting

Oh so tempting

After a friend told me on two different occasions how he enjoyed the Clackamas River Trail, it was high on my hiking radar.  When I got a day off today and the sun was shining, the Clackamas seemed a logical destination. Denise and I loaded up a couple packs and headed out there for a quick out-and-back trip.  As I drove along the river, I fondly remembered kayaking it with a buddy years ago.  The waters are more pristine upstream from North Fork Reservoir, but a road parallels the river for many miles.

D & JC walking in front

D & JC walking in front

Although I’d driven the road multiple times (its the route to the famous Bagby Hot Springs) it hadn’t occurred to me that I’d have the road as backdrop while hiking.  Duh.  It was in the background half the time.   The woods are still really nice, more open than most forests on Mt. Hood, due to an obvious wildfire.

A stand of charred trunks

A stand of charred trunks

Denise led the way for a while, and then I took over.  The walking was not too tough.  The trail was rocky in a few spots, muddy in a few spots, and lined with poison oak for fifty feet (in the switchbacks).   After climbing over a high point, we switchbacked down to the riverside and a tiny but pretty beach.  Jackie wanted to chase sticks, so I obliged.  Then it was onward and upward again.  The trail was closed at the two mile mark due to recent slide activity that made the trail impassable.  The signage had alerted us to the situation, but it was still a let-down.

View from the trail closure

View from the trail closure

The jade hues of the river were gorgeous from that high point.  I wanted to jump into its depths or kayak down the whitewater.  Maybe on a hotter day.  There are many more miles to the trail.  Hopefully it will get repaired and re-open at some point.   I’ll be back.

Mr. Snake tried to hide.  Jackie didn't clue in.

Mr. Snake tried to hide. Luckily, Jackie didn’t clue in.

 

Remembering Salmon River Canyon

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For some reason I found myself poring over old photos tonight.  Flashback to two  summers ago.  I hiked up the Salmon River Trail with my friend Steve, who toted his infant daughter on his back. There are couple great lookout points on the trail including this one. After hiking a bit over an hour to get there, we sat and enjoyed the views and each other’s company. Glorious day.

White River Snowshoeing Memory

It was perfect day to get out on the snow

It was perfect day to get out on the snow

Today I stumbled onto a batch of photos from a few years ago.  Here, my stepson Casey and I are snowshoeing along the popular White River below the magnificent Mount Hood.  I recommend cross country skis to make the return trip faster and more fun.  You can go miles up the canyon before the terrain gets tough, and it’s mostly wide open.  Sadly, there isn’t that much snow this year.  Perhaps I shall return when more snow comes.

Bald Mountain to McNeil Point and Beyond

Bald Mountain

Early morning view west from Bald Mountain

Just over twenty minutes after leaving the Top Spur trailhead, I reached one of the classic Oregon hiking viewpoints.  Mount Hood looms large over the steep, bare flanks of Bald Mountain and the silvery strands of the Muddy Fork far below.  There is barely a spot wide enough to get comfortable for a photo.  The sun is in my face, so the first photos with my new Nikon don’t come out well.  Soon I dipped back into the trees, but this sort of spot is always a good start to a hike.

Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees...

Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees…

My destination was the old CCC shelter at McNeil Point and the alpine terrain above it.  I’d been there a few times, but I’d never climbed above the shelter toward the upper reaches of Cathedral Ridge.  The hike is casual for the most part.  There are two great viewpoints along the way, one of which even has nice rock perches.

More open views along the way

More open views along the way

The Timberline Trail doesn’t officially go to the McNeil Point shelter, but there is spur trail heading up there.  There is also a steep climber’s trail which takes off alongside a tiny creek.  I missed it on my way by but found it after hopping across a rockslide.  This is much shorter than taking the official trail, but it is also much steeper—not for the faint of heart.

Love this little cascade

Love this little cascade

The shelter was as I remembered, a stone remnant of one of FDR’s stimulus programs.  It is a great spot to relax and absorb the views, with the glaciers and craggy ridges of the mountain looming above, and views into the maw of the Muddy Fork’s canyon below.  Across the canyon, the bulk of Yocum Ridge is enticing.  To the north, Mounts St. Helens, Rainier and Adams are all visible.

McNeil Point shelter

McNeil Point shelter

Upwards.  A hiker’s trail headed up through the alpine tundra world.  Vistas reminded me of the alpine scenes in The Sound of Music.  Serious.  I was feeling out of shape, so I took my time to snap photos and stay hydrated.

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The hills are alive…

40 minutes of hiking above the shelter, the trail vanishes and I wandered along a craggy ridgeline.  At first it was mere rock hopping, but eventually I needed to use my hands, and I finally had to commit to climbing with a lot of exposure.  The experience was reminiscent of the landscape along nearby Barrett Spur as well as the epic ridge traverse I did between Sacagawea and Matterhorn in the Wallowas in 2012. (Those are each classic Oregon hiking scrambles as well, but the traverse on the latter trip is only for seasoned alpine hikers.)

I like the different colors in here

I like the subtle color differences; note the strip of burnt forest from the Dollar Lake Fire.  Mt. Adams in background

The ridge was far more rugged than it had appeared from below, which is a good thing in my book.  Tough scrambling was worth it to stare at the face of Mount Hood from this vantage.  It might not be as tall as a lot of peaks, but it is, to borrow the old Columbia Sportswear ad, one tough mother.

Craggy scramble land

Craggy scramble land

Looking across at the base of Yocum Ridge

Looking across at the base of Yocum Ridge

Mount Hood glacier

The Sandy Glacier and wispy clouds on Mount Hood

The glacier.  A stream begins in the crescent shaped hole

The Sandy Glacier. A stream begins in the foreground hole

White wispy clouds gradually grew, and the skies slowly darkened.  Time to get going.  Other hikers appeared below along a grassy sub ridge adjacent to the Sandy Glacier.  I wondered if they were on a decent path, and I decided it looked like a safer route down.

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Easy scrambling here. This looks much smaller in the next photo.

Looking back the way I'd come

Looking back the way I’d come: some rock is loose, and some is solid

When I descended, I found no trail, and the hikers had vanished.  Some ridiculous talus slope hopping ensued.  Rocks teetered underfoot and slid on the micro-pebbles beneath.  It’s a broken ankle waiting to happen.  In retrospect, this was not my best choice, but I didn’t want to lose too much elevation.

Looking down the valley of the Muddy Fork

Looking down the Muddy Fork drainage. Bald Mountain is the bare spot on the right.

Eventually I traversed back to the path and enjoyed the last of the killer views before clouds cloaked the volcano.  With my scrambles on top of trail hiking, I probably ventured 10 or 11 miles, which is relatively modest, but more than 3000 feet of elevation gain and challenging scrambles made it a very respectable day in the mountains.

The signpost is tired.  Clouds obscure Mount Hood as I depart.

Back on the Timberline trail. Clouds obscure Mount Hood as I depart.

I would be sore the next day, but it was worth it.  I hadn’t known what to expect from the terrain.  What I found was an experience that fits perfectly in the pantheon of classic Oregon hiking trips.

Before the Fireworks: A Columbia Gorge Adventure

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July Fourth is an interesting holiday.   Some people like to stay at home, so they can spend their money on smelly, noisy, and colorful flashbangs in the neighborhood and drink a favorite beverage, perhaps eating some grilled meat along the way.   For some, it’s a good day to get outdoors and enjoy mama nature.  Call me crazy, but I like to do both.

It had been too long since I had had a tough hike, but I only had half a day.  After some research, I picked Munra Point in the Columbia Gorge, accessed off exit 40 on highway 84.  It sounded spectacular and challenging for a short hike, and so it would prove to be.

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Trail 400 is just a wee bit overgrown with thistles and blackberries.  Yay.

Trail 400 is just a wee bit overgrown: lots of thistles and blackberries.

The trailhead is the same spot as the Wahclella Falls trail.   Munra Point has an unofficial trail that peels off of Trail 400 just over a mile to the west, shortly before it crosses Moffett Creek.  While unmarked, the junction feels relatively obvious.  Thirty or forty feet up the trail, there is a sign on a tree saying “trail not maintained”.   At first, the Munra Point trail climbed steadily like a normal trail, but as it steepened, some of the switchbacks had some slippery to their slope.

Fellow traveler in the woods

Fellow traveler in the woods

Unfortunately, people have taken shortcuts, which has made a mess of things in a couple spots, so it’s hard packed dirt with ball bearing grit on top, and the tread is not always flat.  Once you break into the open, there is less chance for this, as the trail gets so steep, there may be only one route possible, and it is much rockier.

If you don't want to scramble, don't try this

If you don’t like scrambling, don’t try this route

I had to use my hands to clamber over more than a few boulders and short rocky pitches.   Trekking poles be nice in certain areas, an encumbrance in other spots.  The trail breaks out into the open with views in multiple directions, from Beacon Rock and the River to the west toward Table Mountain, Mount Adams to the Northwest, and what I believe is the mass of Tanner Butte to the south; it is all lovely.

The town of North Bonneville way below

The town of North Bonneville and Hamilton Mountain across the Columbia

Looking toward the Columbia.  The trail drops down the rocks here

Looking toward the Columbia. The trail drops straight down the rocks here

Lovely Oak grove

Lovely grove of oaks

The typical Douglas Fir forest shifted into scrub oak on the more open craggy terrain.  Unfortunately, there is also poison oak.   The trail is steep, but my pace felt slow.   I was pleased to surmount the final rocky gully.  Above it, the trees vanished.  The trail traverses a narrow grassy ridge to Munra Point proper.

View up at the point after coming into the open

View up at the point after coming into the open

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Looking at Munra Point from a subpeak to the northeast

One trip report on Portland Hikers Field Guide suggests the final point is too dangerous to attain, but I did not find this to be the case, although I had to find a spot to sit in a saddle below.   Photo opportunities abound.

Looking to the northeast point

Looking toward the northeast sub-peak, Bonneville Dam below and Mt. Adams on the horizon

Looking west, a few flowers waver in the wind

Looking west, a few flowers waver in the wind

The narrow ridges heading to sub peaks to the northeast and to the south are each trickier, and not for those subject to vertigo. They are well worth investigating for views and geology, or perhaps you’ll enjoy watching and listening to the swallows cruising overhead, whipping back and forth across the ridges.

The narrow ridge south of Munra Point

The narrow ridge south of Munra Point, accessible from the far end

Looking north from the sub peak to the south

Looking north from the sub peak to the south

Naturally, the descent is much faster.  Trekking poles would have come in handy here.  I slipped in a few spots, incurring a gash to my hand near the bottom.  Independence requires a price.  This one is small.

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Munra Point is a great short hike for the adventurous, a good start to a day when we all might contemplate our own independence.

Sandy River Trail and beyond

Looking downstream from a favorite Cascade haunt

Looking downstream from a favorite Cascade haunt

The Sandy River trail connects two popular recreational spots on the west side of Mount Hood: Riley Horse Camp and the Ramona Falls trailhead. The trail cuts through a forest that has unique soil due to a volcanic eruption on Hood just prior to Lewis and Clark’s passage nearby on the Columbia River. People scavenge for mushroom, camp, ride horses, and hike as much as they like in this section of the Mount Hood National Forest. Solitude is a rare quality here. Yet I find that it is possible with a little off trail travel in the relatively flat environment below the Ramona Falls trailhead.

Sandy River Trail

Sandy River Trail

After dealing with a pseudo retirement party Friday night, we spent Saturday doing paperwork and visiting a friend who is fighting cancer with a powerful will.  I have no doubt she will win.  Afterward, a serene trip to the woods was in order. The Sandy River Trail cuts across the main access road at one point, and we parked nearby. The walking is casual, the ash and mudflow soil apparent at various points where it is very soft and gets rutted easily in heavy rains.

Denise and Jackie cruising along

Denise and Jackie cruising along

Our destination was a stretch of open riverbed not far from the trail.  Multiple channels cut through rocks and sand, the water too high for us to channel hop. There were glimmers of sun as we enjoyed the noisy company of the Sandy River and a view of the lower stretches of Mount Hood. We threw sticks for Jackie, soaked in the natural environment, and came away feeling rejuvenated.

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Bigger trips are soon to come with summer weather.  This was a nice stopgap stroll.   For now, back to the city, work, and life.

Yours truly with the best dog in the world.

Yours truly with the best dog in the world.

Curious forest floor flora

Curious forest floor flora (say that three times fast!)