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Observation Peak the Long Way


Great view of Mt. St. Helens


The guidebook suggested that the Trapper Creek Wilderness was undiscovered, a hidden gem.   I suppose it was right, but after a 13 mile hike with a deceptive amount of elevation gain, l was focused on my sore legs, worried that I would barely be able to walk the following day.  As it happened, some stretching, anti-inflammatories, and a decent night’s sleep helped me get through it.  Then I looked back and appreciated where I had been and what I had seen. Trapper Creek is a really nice wilderness, not far from the Portland metro area.  It has a gorgeous stream, at least one stunning waterfall, rugged ridges, tremendous old growth and other unique flora, and one stellar summit with views of five volcanoes.  And that’s just one hike.

I began by heading up the Trapper Creek drainage . The trail is not always streamside, but the forest is very pleasant.  I wanted to do the big loop, as it’s known, but in a less popular direction. The loop offers a chance to gradually climb a canyon, or scale a series of forested ridges, either way ending with a spur trail hike to Observation Peak.  By heading up a steep path to the ridge trail, I thought I might save a little time.  The Big Slide Trail is a rugged, intermittently maintained path.  It was still relatively easy to follow, but it was steep in spots, and there was one spot where the direction was counter-intuitive. Once I reached the Observation Trail, the slope mellowed out a bit, never getting close to steep again on the climb.

Views of mountains appeared through the trees. First, the nearby Soda Peaks, and later, the white bulk of Mount Adams to the east.  Once I reached the junction with the summit spur trail, I started feeling pretty good.  Proximity to a peak always gives me a little more pep in the step.  So it was in this case, and this summit was worth the hike.  Vistas in almost all directions were spectacular. It was the end of May, yet Mounts Jefferson, Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and Rainier, along with the Goat Rocks, still showed plenty of snow.  A few other hikers came and went while I soaked in the views, snacked, hydrated, and rested.  One couple planned on camping on the summit.  I was a bit jealous even as I knew I would never camp right there.  The descent would require at least three hours, and I was heading into unknown territory, so when a few more groups reached the summit, I decided it was time to go.

Interestingly, once I crossed over and reached the top of the Trapper Creek Trail, I saw only one other person.  Later, I discovered there are shorter routes to Observation Peak.  That explains the modest crowds up there. Oh well.  I needed the exercise, and exercise I got.  The Trapper Creek Trail descends gradually for a long time, eventually crossing a gorgeous creek with deep pools.  The path then gets steeper, the tread barely there at times as it shuffles down the canyon wall.  There was a sign at one point saying no horses allowed, as the path was too narrow.  And so it was. One big reward came with a view of a waterfall across the canyon.

Once I got reached the bottom of the canyon, I just wanted to be back at the car.  This section of the trail was not that scenic, and the trail actually climbed quite a bit over rolling terrain.  Then I reached creekside and thought I was done climbing.  Ha ha.  Fooled you.   The Deer Creek cutoff was supposed to be a shortcut.  Having already hiked ten miles, I found it difficult to get psyched for the short steep climbs.  There were a few gorgeous spots on the cutoff, including the creek crossing.  My pace slowed.  I’m too old for this, I remember thinking.  Once I passed the turn to the Big Slide Trail, I was in familiar territory.  I plodded onward, and found myself happy to reach my ride.

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.



Hiking Along Coyote Wall


Coyote Wall is a volcanic escarpment in the eastern Columbia River Gorge. I had seen it for years while driving on the Oregon side of the river. To me, it looks like the sloping end of a laminated layer of earth, and I always thought it looked like it would be an amazing place to hike or mountain bike. Somehow I never investigated further until recently. It turns out I was right; it is a great place for those outdoor pursuits.

The trail starts on an old roadbed skirting the base of the cliffs. East of the cliffs, views open up to the mighty Columbia. In short order there is a junction and most of the hikers and bikers peeled off to the left. Junctions are not marked, but there appeared to be only a couple main options. Both climb up in sinuous curves, which seemed to suggest that mountain bikers spurred the development of the area. That and the deep ruts in certain curves…

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The day was almost perfect for hiking. There were blue skies, and the temperatures were moderate. I enjoyed open terrain with stupendous views the entire time. There were plenty of other hikers and bikers, but because it was open terrain, it didn’t cramp my style. I was too busy gawking in all directions and getting a decent workout.

After forty or fifty minutes of uphill walking, I was skirting the edge of the cliff. The views kept getting better, but eventually, I decided to stop climbing.  There was no official summit, so felt  good turning around at a small dip in the trail, especially when I got a late start.  Most others had stopped below.  Jackie Chan the wonder dog took the opportunity to go nuts a little.

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What a treat to have continuous views on the descent!  I veered into the area known at the Labyrinth, where the trail darts across a creek and along a few different undulating hollows between small crags.  Perhaps because the terrain was not as lush as the usual environments around Portland and in the Cascades, each splash of green, each little rill, each colorful flower was a visual treat.

This was a terrific place to visit, and I definitely want to return, perhaps with a mountain bike. Coyote Wall is another reason for outdoor lovers to visit the wondrous Columbia Gorge.

A Walk in the Park: Lacamas Park

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Sometimes when I leave the house for a hike, I don’t thoroughly prepare. Life feels too hectic to take an extra thirty minutes to check all my gear. I just want to be on the trail. Shocking, I know. Sunday was such a day. I threw on trail runners and my old worn out hiking pants, grabbed a backpack with stale water, leashed the pup, and drove to Lacamas Regional Park outside Camas, Washington. An acquaintance had said there wasn’t much reason to go hiking there, but I wanted to check. The map I found had looked interesting.

Lacamas Lake is a long narrow lake with one developed trail along its southwest side.  Although it’s pretty, I will admit that the lake looks rather ho-hum for hiking. Across the road at Round Lake, on the other hand, there is  a whole system of trails circumnavigating the body of water and ranging into the woods beyond.  loops A variety of casual and moderate loops are possible. The main round-the-lake trail is essentially an access road in many places. Offshoots, however, can be much more challenging, especially in muddy conditions. I encountered steep grade more than once.

The park has three healthy waterfalls. That was a lot of white water in a medium-sized park. Shortly after leaving the dam at the outlet of the lake, I heard a bird of prey crying. It was way up a many-limbed snag. I tried to get a better angle and zoom in with the camera, but I was only partially successful. I could not identify its species, but I was sure it was not a red tail hawk, perhaps the most common raptor in our area.

For a weekend, there was only a smattering of other hikers, mostly near Lower Falls, which is impressive indeed. It’s not a steep drop, but it feels massive from the footbridge across its lip.  Beyond the popular areas,  there were a few intersections with no signage, and the map didn’t quite match the world.  I made an educated guess and plunged down a steep path to a muddy valley. It was a happy mistake, as I came upon Woodburn Falls, the third waterfall of the day. It was perhaps the prettiest of all, conjuring a smaller version of the famous Ramona Falls on the west side of Mount Hood.

Lacamas Park had a full parking lot, but the crowds were well dispersed.   A number of people  were fishing, and some were birdwatching. I saw at least one mountain biker.  This would be a great place to go for a run. The official lake loop is 1.2 miles, but with additional lops to waterfalls, you could easily add three or four more miles.  This would also be a great place to canoe or kayak. While the trail along Lacamas Lake itself may not be spectacular,  there is plenty of  exercise to be found in the regional park, so consider a visit.

I had not prepared for much, so I certainly got more than anticipated. The weather had looked iffy early, but it was almost perfect until the end. I got some great sunny moments to light up green, gold, and brown of the ubiquitous moss. As I finished the lake loop, mist started to fall. Good timing. It was a perfect way to end the hike-almost as if I’d planned it.

Cherry Orchard Tease Hike

The Columbia Gorge is more diverse than some people realize. People who rarely stray from the Portland metro area are missing out on many worthy trips. The eastern end of the Gorge is drier, rockier, and more open, and trail signs there alert hikers about snakes, ticks, and poison oak.  Unlike trails near waterfall central, there is a viewpoint every other switchback on trails east of Hood River and Bingen. I was reminded of this after the wife and pup and I drove up to The Dalles following our adventures along the Deschutes River .

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While sitting at a park chomping on some unhealthy food (sorry, Ma), I looked across the mighty Columbia (rolling on, of course) and I saw a massive basalt escarpment I’d noticed before. I mistakenly thought this was the Coyote Wall I’d heard of as a hiking and biking destination.  It seemed a good spot for a hike, but we ended up somewhere else entirely.  Life is like that.

The Lyle Cherry Orchard trailhead is a broad pullout a mile or so east of Lyle, Washington.  The trail itself begins right beneath a rocky tower.  We knew we were in the right place because we saw dozens of cars.  As it turns out, there is a group called Friends of the Gorge and they organize group hikes.  We quickly met a couple dozen people descending the trail.  Everyone was smiling—a good sign.

We gained elevation rapidly, soon meeting the old roadbed of highway 8, a predecessor to the current highway.  At a flat spot, there was a signpost with waivers to fill out, as the trail goes through private land.  Fair enough. Above that, the trail switchbacks through scrub oaks and small crags, then comes out onto grassy benches rimmed with cliffs. There are stellar views of the gorge, both east and west.  Even with a few clouds in the sky, it was a sublime place to relax for a few minutes.

The trail shifts its approach, and beyond a stile, climbs steeply across an open slope.  A fall here would not be pretty, so we didn’t fall.  Coincidentally, I bumped into a man I knew from Portland.  It was no place to chat, so we moved on, climbing out of the steep stuff into an undulating oak forest.   No cherry trees yet.  Along the way, the trail passed two seasonal ponds, along with a skull and skeleton of a critter.  The last mile of the trail is rather humdrum in comparison to the first mile, but it’s still enjoyable.   After turning onto an old road, the trail opens up in the meadow of an old homestead site which offers a great picnic spot.  We found no cherry orchard, but there were more amazing views. Taking in the breeze, sun, and views was enough for us.

Jackie Chan met a few ticks on the descent, which I quickly dispatched with ninja swiftness.  Other than that, the hike was smooth,  and we were happy to get back to the car and think about cold beverages.  It was a very nice hike overall.  People with less time could stop at the upper grassy bench and be very satisfied.

Hardy Ridge Loop

Logging remnant, I presume

Logging remnant, I presume

I might make some Oregonians mad, or they might think I am mad in a different sense of the word when I say that the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge is better for hiking.  Of course, that’s coming from the perspective of someone who craves heights and dramatic views.  I actually like both sides.  The waterfalls on the Oregon side are great, and the greenery can be stunning, but if you like views and rugged terrain, head to the Washington side. Consider Dog Mountain, Wind Mountain, or Hamilton Mountain.  That was my thought process when I climbed Hardy Ridge yesterday.

Easy walking for a couple miles

Easy walking for a couple miles

The parking lot known as the equestrian trailhead in Beacon Rock State Park is a mile or so off the highway. The trail is really an old road blocked off by a gate, so the walking is easy.   There are various junctions, but all are well signed.   It is possible to start from here and go east to Hamilton Mountain.   Perhaps another day.  I opt to continue with the Hardy Ridge Loop.

An odd boot shaped rock atop a stump

An odd boot shaped rock atop a stump

I had recommendations to go both directions, but I went counter clockwise, and that worked out well.  After an hour the road peters out, and from there it is but ten or fifteen minutes to the open ridge crest.  I pause for an energy bar and a few pics.  The day is cool, but I am a heat machine, so I am tad sweaty.  Keeping a good temperature is always tricky for me.  I use a bandana to dry off the back of my head and neck so I don’t get chilled on the breezy ridge.

Looking south to Hood

Looking south to Hood

An unofficial trail heads north on the ridge for three quarters of a mile.  It is easy to follow if fairly rugged in a couple spots.  After the first seven or eight minutes, the views are constantly with you.  Life is good.

River, rock, moss, tree

River, rock, moss, trees

The maw of the gorge is below, a snowy Mount Hood peeking over the peaks of the Columbia Wilderness.  To the east, Hamilton Mountain looks surprisingly small.  Even Table Mountain looks relatively modest.  I have climbed higher than I thought.

Hamilton Mountain et al.

Looking down at Hamilton Mountain.  Benson Plateau behind it to the left.

The ridge alternates mossy areas with brush, stands of trees, and rocky patches.   Fending off some tight brushy spots reminded me a little of a minor epic bushwhack on Signal Buttes a few years ago.  Hardy Ridge is definitely easier, and I would not consider it off trail hiking.  It’s a lot more accessible, too, but the open ridge feels similar.

Love the colors.  Looking west

Love the colors. Looking west northwest

This moss was wild

This moss was amazing

I hung out on top for a long time soaking in the views, contemplating my quiet life in a loud world.   Another person sat a hundred yards past me, seemingly meditating.   Nice spot for it.

Looking over at Table Mountain

Looking over at Table Mountain

The rocky ridge on top--and Mount Hood to the south

The rocky ridge on top–and Mount Hood to the south

The herd path appears to keep going to a lower east west ridge to the north.  I envision a more difficult hike, linking this ridge to Table Mountain or Hamilton Mountain.  Hmm.

Looking down the ridge

Heading down the ridge, the sun glare bombing  the river

My descent is uneventful apart from one steep section on the west side trail where I slipped.  My round trip, including a least a half hour slounging on top, took four hours.   My legs are bit stiff from walking non-stop on the way back.  Once again, the Washington side of the Gorge again satisfied my need to get out and stretch my legs.

Pleasant woods on the descent

Pleasant woods on the descent

Fireball sun behind the trees close to the bottom

Fireball sun behind the trees close to the bottom

Cape Horn of Plenty

The Columbia Gorge from Cape Horn

The Columbia Gorge from Cape Horn

This is a sequel hike.  I came up here last winter, but a prime time summer day is a different experience, especially when it’s with four other people.   we came late in the day, and just blasted (okay, we walked steadily) up to the first few viewpoints.   We encountered a woman wondering if we’d seen a friend of hers.  He had just taken off running.   First rule of hiking club: don’t leave your buddies.  Second rule of hiking club:  don’t ridicule those hikers who make foolish decisions.  We found the guy later.  All was well.   Third rule of hiking club:  don’t scare the heck out of your friends by leaning way too close to the edge of a cliff.    Ah, what the heck.

Cape HOrn views

Denise, Jackie Chan, and friends at a dusty viewpoint over the Columbia River

We decided to turn around where there was a no trespassing sign that hadn’t been there in the winter. It would have been along walk to another pretty view and we were short on time. Still, a couple killer viewpoints and some good exercise with good company is about as good as life gets in my book.   That and high quality chocolate ice cream.

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.