My vacation is winding down, so I really wanted a wilderness experience. As I get older, I seem to have fewer and fewer of them, and that’s a shame. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire, but yesterday I sought to rectify that absence and headed to the north side of the highest mountain in Oregon. The drive is long but the hike is shorter and easier than many approaches.
From the Vista Ridge Trailhead, the trail goes through half a mile of typical Cascade forest, then emerges into a charred landscape left over from the Dollar Lake fire in 2011. The underbrush is thriving, but here are few trees left alive over ten feet tall. Lots of silvery trunks make for an odd atmosphere, but I find it fascinating. Once I climbed out of that in a couple miles, the wildflowers started dotting the sides of the trail. I’d worried I was late, but not at all. Once I hit the Timberline Trail, I had a quick decision to make about finding a campsite. I chose to seek a new spot in Elk Cove, a big open meadow below the steep slopes of Mount Hood abutted by the massive talus slopes of Barrett Spur.
Once I made camp, I snacked and headed out on a hike to points east. Three stream crossings later, a couple of which are tricky, I made it to a nice set of rocky slabs above Compass Creek Falls. It’s hard to get a straight-on view of the falls, because it’s below the trail. I found a nice flat rock and napped briefly in the sunshine. Sleeping in the sun feels like vacation.
The flowers along the trail kept surprising me. Yellow, lavender, red, white, pink, orange. It’s such a treat to catch the mountainsides bedecked in coat of many colors. My walk back to camp was uneventful other than starting to see a lot more people. It was a good day.
My only disappointment was when I realized my camp was too far in the shadow of a massive ridge to see the comet Neowise, but that was a small price to pay for the lovely vista I had while eating a mediocre freeze dried dinner. An early evening ramble along a user path in the meadows let me see a different perspective of creek and flowers and mountain above. I took a series of photos and eventually wandered back to my tent feeling intoxicated by the beauty of the area.
I woke early today and headed out, knowing I had business to attend to at home, but also knowing my legs might not be up for another side trek. I am already thinking about my next visit to the area.
Having lived in the mountains for years, I am accustomed to dealing with cold, rain, and snow. That said, as a city dweller now, I play it cautious because I’ve learned not to trust other drivers. When the Portland area got its first snow freakout warning of the season, however, I decided it would be a nice opportunity to take a hike in different conditions. Luckily, the roads were simply wet on the way to Marquam Nature Park. Good start.
I left my vehicle in one of numerous pullouts along Terwilliger Boulevard and headed up the muddy Marquam Trail. I had no particular place to go, I just wanted to gain elevation and hopefully see a little snow. Ultimately, I created a loop with the Flicker and Towhee Trails. My route trended upward for a while, and then flattened out in a quiet forest. I topped out at less than 800 feet above sea level. There were dustings of snow here and there, and I did see a few flakes falling. The slick mud underfoot affected me more than any white stuff.
While Marquam is not a well known as its big brother to the north, Forest Park, it is also sizable and a fine choice for any Portland area hiker or jogger in need of a few trail miles, even when a touch of snow is in the forecast. Happy trails.
Alaska is large. Who knew? It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day. And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way. We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings. It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country. I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short. Alaska is its own world.
The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska. And there’s more. Lots more. The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage. Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas. No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience. More to come.
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.
I’ve climbed mountains in the Rockies, walked in temperate rainforests, scrambled in the Sonorans, and ambled across eastern wildflower meadows, but Dungeness Spit might be one of the most unique spots for a hike I’ve encountered. Situated on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the spit bends like a fishing rod into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as it reaches out to shake hands with Puget Sound.
I’d read that the spit was a nice place to visit, so when my mom visited from Virginia, I put it on our itinerary. I didn’t realize that I’d actually want more time to explore Dungeness Spit. A flat trail stretches along the top of a long bluff, accessible from a few different points. There were great views of the strait. At one point I did my best Sarah Palin impersonation. If not Russia, I could see, in fact, see Canada from the bluff. At the east end of the bluff, a trail heads through forest to the base of the spit itself. There are a few interpretive signs on viewing platforms, but I wanted to get down there. I just checked out the beginning of the driftwood-strewn, wave-lapped spit, which extends over five miles into the water, where a persistent sand hiker will find a lighthouse. I already want to return. Happy hiking.
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.
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.
My wife and I were very lucky to get what was basically a free trip to the beach. The weather finally turned, so we hoped the rain would help firefighters with the many fires in the American West. Alas, the precipitation was relatively modest, but that meant our beach trip was more pleasant than expected. After romantic walks on the beach in Newport, we visited Yaquina Head. While Denise stayed in the visitor center, I strolled up Salal Hill and checked out Cobble Beach below. Great spots. I think we visited the area more than a decade ago. This was a great rediscovery, and well worth the time.