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This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption.

This is panoramic view from my phone shows Lake Todos los Santos with pumice gravel in the foreground from a 2015 eruption. Click to get a better image.

At long last the rain dried up and the clouds parted. I woke up feeling great despite having food poisoning the previous afternoon. We were on our way around the south side of Lake Llanquihue by 8:30am. Our first foray off the main road was in search of Vicki’s other farmhouse. She had described the location and thought it might be fun for us to try to find it. Her farmhouse is on the slopes below volcano Calbuco. That one erupted April 22, 2015 and is responsible for all the pumice gravel and sand that we had been seeing in the area. Locals enthusiastically described how the area looked like a moonscape just after the eruption, and are amazed at how green and lush everything is already. We got very close, but the place we finally decided was probably hers, turned out not to be hers in the end. We did see some of the clearest evidence of the recent eruption, with wide swaths covered in volcanic gravel. We also saw fenceposts buried about two feet in the gravel, and we could see where snowplows had plowed the gravel off roads, and today the red and black pumice rock berms remain.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Calbuco behind flourishing foxglove.

Volcano Orsorno from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

Volcano Orsorno and volcano Puntiagudo from the foothills of volcano Calbuco.

We drove through Ensenada and closer to volcano Orsorno, which we could finally see in its full glory now that the clouds had cleared. From multiple angles the peak is close to symmetrical, and rises to 8,730 feet. We made our first real stop at the waterfalls called Saltos del Petrohué. These falls are on the very river that we rafted on two days before! So look at the lovely aqua colour and you can imagine what a pleasure it was to have that water smash you in the face. 😉

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me "Are you in Eden?!"

This view of the waterfalls is truly beautiful. After I posted on facebook, a friend asked me “Are you in Eden?!”

In the video, you can see Margaret with her black coat draped over her shoulders, in front of volcano Osorno. Behind the falls is Cerro la Picada. Cerro means “hill,” but in this case it’s a 4100 foot hill.

On the short walking trail we found a tiny lake where we stopped for a picnic lunch. There were trout in the lake, which connects to the river. I took tons of what should have been great photos, but… more camera problems. Everything from the moment when we entered the park – and for the rest of the day – is dreadfully overexposed. I must have accidentally changed the settings to make all the photos totally washed out to almost uselessness. The photos I have posted are a result of drastic photo editing. I just don’t know what happened and I’m really disappointed, because it was so great to have a sunny day again and all the photo advantages that come of that. Drat.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Me in front of volcanoes and waterfalls.

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohue

Cascadas (waterfalls) on the Rio Petrohué

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch.

Small pond near the waterfalls where we ate our picnic lunch. On the ridge are Coihue trees, the most common found in Chile.

Our destination was Lagos Todos los Santos, which the previous day I had read on two different websites is purported to be the most lovely lake in all of Chile. I thought it had to be at least pretty nice, considering all the lakes in the running. We had not witnessed an unlovely Chilean lake yet.

One arrives at the town of Petrohué on the lake in something of a madhouse, with tour busses clogging up every artery and troops of tour employees standing in lanes and parking areas, directing every single vehicle where to park without taking the time to figure out what your intentions are. An attendant waved us to a spot, and as we were about to pull in, another attendant frantically waved us to his area, so we continued on, shrugging apology to the first guy. It didn’t dawn on us till later that the attendants belong to competing tour companies, and want us to park close to their company so they can have the first crack at selling us a ticket to a boat tour. Margaret and I were as yet oblivious, however, and happily continued along the sandy lane, focused first on avoiding the gigantic double-decker tour busses, and second on finding a place to park now that we had left the attendants in our rear view mirror. First other vehicles followed us, then we followed them, all in search of elusive parking, but the trick was to go all the way to beach for copious free parking (estacionamiento gratis). We hailed a bus attendant and asked where “trekking” was (Strangely, this is the word the park officials have been using, so I did too.  Possibly another German holdover, since I am pretty sure trekking is not a Spanish word), and were pointed to the trailhead we sought.

At the trailhead we saw that Desolación Trail (named desolation for the effects left in the wake of volcanic eruptions in the past, so it was particularly apt after 2015) had two routes at the beginning: one along the lakeshore, and one that was inland. The two routes meet up at a single trail partway up the mountain. We liked the idea of the no-elevation-gain beach route, and struck out that way.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Walking along the beach at Todos los Santos.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Todos los Santos with Cerro Tronador in the distance.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Pumice rocks on the beach.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Scotch broom bursting in bloom at the lakeshore.

Volcano Puntiagudo

Volcano Puntiagudo

We went along the west shore until we could see that soon we would have to turn along the north shore, and with the map in our mind’s eye, we knew that would not connect us to the trail. We had not seen the trail since we hit the beach, but we had seen enough of the beach. We turned around and decided to go back to town and hire a kayak. In town, the only place that rented kayaks was down to one, and said if we came back in two hours he would have another one for us. In that tiny town there really was nothing else to do but go back to the trail and take the inland route.

It was a tough slog because the trail was entirely deep, soft, sand. Every step was work. But Margaret and I are determined women and we kept a good pace and trudged a couple of miles. Trudge, trudge, trudge and had gained about 20 feet in elevation after two hours. We were in the midst of a conversation about whether to keep going when we ran into some other Americans sitting in the shade of a tree having the same discussion. After we talked to them we went ahead on the trail for another half an hour and then gave up. The trail is 11.5 kilometers and we were hoping to get some elevation and get a view, at the very least, but it was not happening any time soon. After all that hiking, I took a final panoramic shot that is at the top of this post. We gave up and went back to Petrohué. By this time I was fully sunburnt, and our hamstrings and quadriceps were hollering complaints about the sandy trail. We did not go back to the kayak place, but headed back to Puerto Varas.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

A final look at the volcano before we turned around on the trail and headed back.

This time it was Margaret’s turn to relax. I still had energy (possibly due to sleeping an extra three hours the day before), and took off to explore the town for the first time while M stayed at the hostel and rested. I was in search of something woven from alpaca or llama, but it was late in the day and I had a hard time finding anything open. I decided instead to just explore the town, and struck out for the top of a hill across from our hostel. On the way up, a happy stray dog bounded my way and took up my pace, right at my heels. I walked and walked, and the dog stayed with me. As I climbed the hill, I realized that I could not get down to the lakefront again because there was a cliff between it and me, and no egress. I would have to go back the way I came, or go forward far enough for the ground to slope back toward the shore again. Forward it was, and with my trusting companion, I hoofed it through Puerto Varas. I must have walked three miles, and at a really quick pace because I was trying to get back to my room eventually. The dog finally ditched me in a park once I made it downtown again, and I climbed a long long set of stairs up a pedestrian path back to the Galpon Aire Puro, and bed.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington... this is the high I'm after.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington… this is the high I’m after.

Before I left, I told my neighbors I would be gone all week, and by way of explanation I said, “The reason I work is so that I can hike.” It’s only a small exaggeration. Aside from taking care of Tara, and having a house to call home base, the reason I have a job is so that I can save up vacation days and then pay for my play time. Two things top the list titled Play Time: 1) travel, 2) backpacking.

I reluctantly left my comfortable-as-a-cloud hotel mattress behind me in Leavenworth, Washington, ate breakfast at Kristall’s (with a name like that, I had to), and found the trailhead in 15 minutes. I was on the trail by 8:20 am and in no time I had left civilization well behind me.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

I climbed 3500 feet in elevation in about 5 1/2 miles to Nada Lake – the one you see pictured at the top. There were so many switchbacks climbing up and up and up. On this trip, unlike last year’s, my spirits were soaring, the weather was amazing, and the sights along the trail were constantly photo-worthy. Yes, it was a rough climb, and I was tired, but not discouraged at all.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

What month is it? It's the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

What month is it? It’s the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

I gave myself a break and stayed the first night at Nada Lake. I have not been able to hike all year, and I also have not been exercising regularly. I wanted to be smart about this and save some reserves for the days ahead, since pushing too hard out of day-one-excitement can lead to injuries.

For my campsite I chose a cute little peninsula that I assume is usually below water, based on the signs of lake level around the shores. It’s the end of the season, which means water levels are at their lowest.

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake - isn't it remarkable?

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake – isn’t it remarkable?

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

I had loads of late afternoon sunshine, so I took my time and cooked up a nice meal for an early supper. I’ve mentioned before that I eat well when I’m camping. The down side is that my food weight is higher than most reasonable back packers. The up side is that… well… I eat really well! And, I always carry wine with me, because one must celebrate her accomplishments, and I like to celebrate with wine.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry (yes, I used coconut milk) with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms. There are apricots in the photo too, but I did not use them.

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Wednesday night I had pasta with alfredo sauce, sausage, and sundried tomatoes. I did not bring milk for the alfredo, but with powdered milk, real butter and pre-grated parmesan, that sauce was mouth-watering despite being made with lake water. I use a lot of water camping, and I just boil all the nasties out of it, so it’s safe. In 15 years of back packing, I have not yet been sick from the water, so I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right. I had originally intended to make the alfredo and pasta with chicken, but I was not in the mood for chicken on a second night and opted for sausage instead.

Thursday night I had burritos with rice, refried beans, pre-sauteed onions, cheese, salsa and fresh avocado. There are no photos because I got back to camp late and ate in the dark. I discovered that chipmunks love avocado, when I accidentally left one half of the shell outside by the camp stove overnight, and in the morning found it spotlessly clean with teensy tinsy teeth marks all over it. The avocado trick I learned from back packing mentor M, who took me on my very first trip ever, in 2000. M showed me that if you pick a rock-hard avocado in the store, and carry it for a few days in your pack, it’s perfect!

Before I left I baked cookies packed with things from the pantry: chocolate chips, dried cranberries, oatmeal and walnuts. I also boiled eggs. So several breakfasts were hardboiled eggs and cookies and coffee. I always bring Peets coffee (my fave brand). One morning I had sausage and scrambled eggs from real eggs that I carried. Unfortunately the container I chose to store the eggs were not leakproof, and for the rest of the trip I had a bit of raw egg on the packaging of my other food items. Ah well. I typically melt the Tillamook cheese over the eggs, but it was 34 degrees that morning and the heat would not have been maintained long enough to melt the cheese. I had to scarf it down while the eggs were still warm.

A word on dishes. The blue plate came along not simply because the cobalt blue enamel is lovely and makes my food taste better. The plate is perfectly sized as a lid for both the deeper pot, and the shallower pan that I brought. The pot is for boiling water mainly, but having multiple dishes allows me to store one cooked item while cooking the second item. You can see my entire dish selection below: one pot, one pan, one plate, one cup, one fork, one spoon. I also bring one sharp knife that can be used for food as well as for cutting rope or branches as needed.

Cleaning dishes in the mountains is an endeavor. First of all I try to avoid using soap if at all possible. It is good for killing bacteria and thus is not good for the environment. Scoop a little stream or lake water into your dish, and add a handful of sand. Use your hands to scour, then dump the dirty water well away from the shore. Since it was so bitterly cold in the evenings and mornings on this trip, I was forced to heat the water to make that process effective. Using sand is amazingly effective. You won’t believe it till you try it. The two meals with sausage, I had to use Dr. Bronner’s soap because of all the fat left behind. You want to use the mildest, most quickly biodegradable soap you can bring, and always dump the water well away from the shore, and not onto plants.

Alright, that’s my public service message for the day. Tune in next time for the rest of the trip!

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

This is me at the summit of Larch Mountain.

This is me at the summit of Larch Mountain. Volcanoes are in the background, trust me. No really, they are.

I managed to get out with my hiking group again on Sunday. Saturdays are sooo busy (this one was my Mt. Hood Cherokees meeting), and the option for Sunday hikes is appreciated.

My hike the previous weekend to Poo Poo Point gave me a chance to prepare my body a little, because this hike was 6.8 miles to the summit from the trailhead. It was .2 miles from the car, totaling 14 miles hiked and over 4000 foot elevation gain in one day. Believe me, my legs are still having a conversation with me about what took place…

One fun thing about the trail is that it begins at Multnomah Falls. You will be amazed to hear that I did not take a single shot of the stunning falls while I was in the viewing area with all the tourists. I have hundreds of photos of Multnomah Falls and was trying to practice restraint, ha ha! But if you want a reminder of which falls I mean, check out one of my posts on it from winter 2013  or from winter 2012.

One mile of paved trail leads you to the viewing platform at the top of the falls: 611 feet above the pool at the bottom.

Looking over the edge of Multnomah Falls, down to the parking lot and I-5 below. Doesn't this perspective mess with your equilibrium?

Looking over the edge of Multnomah Falls, down to the parking lot and I-5 below. Doesn’t this perspective mess with your equilibrium?

The trail after that is not paved, but is in great shape and there are so many more remarkable waterfalls I lost track. I included several photos of my hiking companions on the trail, to help with perspective, and add a contrast to the extravagant opulence of all the green. The ground was wet from a lot of run off and creeks crossing the trails, but we found solid purchase for our feet for the first five miles. We crossed five bridges, if my memory is correct, and each one of those was an adventure in itself. The first over Multnomah Falls, then a Troll Bridge, one that warned us it was falling apart, and two very sturdy bridges built from a single log with the top flattened for us to walk on, and a railing attached to one side. So clever.

Let me explain one aspect of my photos before I get too far. A friend who looked at my photos pointed out – correctly – that if I was in front of the group and turned back, I could get photos of all the lovely faces of the ladies I hiked with. This is absolutely true and it’s a loss that you won’t see them here. However, I am sensitive to the fact that when they registered for this hike, none of them signed up to have their faces on the Internet via my blog. I got permission to post butts (ha ha), but I promised not to show faces or names.

Our trail followed Multnomah Creek for quite a while.

Our trail followed Multnomah Creek for quite a while.

So many waterfalls, it was hard to keep track of them.

So many waterfalls, it was hard to keep track of them.

Troll bridge in the sunshine.

Troll bridge in the sunshine.

Part of the trail ducked under cliffs that had been carved out for us. See the waterfall in the distance here?

Part of the trail ducked under cliffs and is called Dutchman tunnel. See the waterfall in the distance here?

This is me in front of the waterfall in the shot right above.

This is me in front of the waterfall in the shot right above.

To our surprise, about 1.5 miles from the top, we walked into snow. It started off so beautifully: a lovely layer of white to change our forest views. We were very excited, taking photos and giving some accessories to a tiny snowman that someone else built along the trail.

The snow never got very deep, but it did make for some terrible trail conditions. First, the several inches of snow on the dirt trail ensured that it was a mud trail, particularly in the afternoon return home, when many many boots had tromped the slush into a dreadful slippery mess. Second, the snow on the branches of the trees above us slowly melted throughout the day, causing “tree rain” sufficient to soak us through despite the sky teasing us with copious blue that we spotted up through the trees. Luckily we all had jackets for protection, but it was impossible to stay entirely dry at that point.

At 1:00 pm were tired and discouraged and still walking uphill through the mud and tree rain. But occasional bursts of sunshine and the persistent blue above the trees were a tease that we couldn’t resist. Besides, we had come too far to give up.

Walking past yet another waterfall.

Walking past Ecola Falls.

Switchbacks. We became rather familiar with them.

Switchbacks. We became rather familiar with them.

You go first!

You go first!

Snow! It was so exciting that we took photos of it at first.

Snow! It was so exciting that we took photos of it at first.

Someone else built this snowman, but we added the character.

Someone else built this snowman, but we added the character.

Isn't this just lovely?

Isn’t this just lovely?

The summit was worth it! A lovely little rest spot has been built right at the top of the mountain, with benches and a fence to keep us from tumbling over the side. We gathered with other tenacious hikers and ate lunch. The sun had melted the snow off the tops of the benches, where we were able to sit. There was very little wind to speak of, but it did get a bit chilly when we stopped moving.

Sadly, the clouds had been gathering all morning, so by the time we arrived, all the volcanoes were obscured. Remember my view from Tom, Dick and Harry Mountain? On a clear day, the same views can be seen from Larch Mountain. Though the volcanoes (St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood, and Jefferson) were hidden, we had a great view of the valleys around us, including the Columbia River.

The journey back down was somewhat lighter, since downhill is so much less of a struggle. Typically downhill is my challenge – not uphill – but my bad knee only hollered at me a couple of times, and I was able to get to the bottom without the help of any curse words!

It was somewhat surreal to finish the hike at a popular tourist destination, and I felt distinctly out of place, with my coat and pack and mud splashed up my legs and bleached blonde hairs frizzing out in all directions. The lovely people around me had perfect hair and clean clothes and some wore sandals (and heels! good gracious). But I could still smile to myself because I had just seen things that they would not. 🙂

There it is! We made it!

There it is! We made it to Sherrard Point!

Islands in the Columbia

Islands in the Columbia

Icicles caught my eye

Icicles caught my eye

Lunch at the top in the snow.

Lunch at the top in the snow.

Snowy peaks in the distance.

Snowy peaks in the distance.

Mt. Jefferson not visible, but how lovely are the trees with natural flocking?

Mt. Jefferson not visible, but how lovely are the trees with natural flocking?

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

Punchbowl Falls along Eagle Creek trail

I need to be outside to feel completely right. Breathing fresh air brings me peace. I wish I could live outside – except for the dirt, ha! During the warm months I open up half the windows in the house, and they stay open -morning, noon and night- till November when I am forced to shut up the house again.

So it follows that in winter I tend to go a little stir crazy when the weather keeps me indoors too long.

Lucky for me, I do not live in New England right now, and going outside is pretty much a breeze. Wednesday the temps were in the 50s with fog and only a slight chance of drizzle. I picked a show-stopper of a trail to add some Zing! to my winter, and off I went. Well, I had a late start because first thing that morning I toured a home for sale in Estacada. I liked it so much I made an offer, and then heard it had sold 15 minutes earlier. Dang!

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The beginning of the trail follows the creek before climbing high above it.

The Eagle Creek Trail is one of the most popular in the Columbia River Gorge because the trailhead is an easy 45 minutes from Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, and also because it packs a lot of scenic beauty into a few short miles on a super easy trail. For these reasons, in warmer months the parking spaces at the trailhead are typically jammed, and cars line the sides of the road all the way out to the Interstate. I thought perhaps the middle of the day Wednesday, in February, would mean an empty trail but I was wrong. There were about 25 vehicles parked when we arrived.

Guidebooks caution that it’s not a good trail for children and dogs, and that everyone should use care. Much of the trail was actually blasted out of the side of a cliff above sheer drops into the creek. In 2009, two people died on this trail, one due to a 100-foot fall.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff.

The trail was dynamited out of the side of a cliff. The cable is there to hold on to.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

Metlako Falls, the first big falls you can see from the trail.

My philosophy is that there is potential danger all around us at all times, and that a trail is actually safer than a sidewalk. As long as I dress right, bring extra gear, water, food, etc., and in this particular case if I stay on the trail, I am confident that it will be a safe hike. Using our smarts will keep many of us alive. You’d think that would mean after 7 million years of natural selection our human population would be filled with only brilliant individuals, but somehow…that is not the case. 🙂

From the trailhead, it’s a 12-mile hike to Tunnel Falls, which I have never seen because I have never hiked that far. There are spectacular sights along the entire trail, but so far I have only hiked in 2 miles to Punchbowl Falls and then returned. There is so much to see in such a short distance that I use the trail for day hikes when I don’t have much time to invest.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

People ahead of us on the trail walk behind a waterfall.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

Trail is visible on the right, with Eagle Creek below on the left.

In the winter, there are waterfalls. And waterfalls, and waterfalls! They are astonishingly high, crashing down on both sides of the creek every few hundred feet or so. In some places you have no choice but to get wet because the trail hugs the cliff, and the falls spill down the cliffs. At one point near the beginning of the trail, a waterfall arcs over the top of the trail and you walk beneath it. (By the way, this is why Tunnel Falls has it’s name) The falls are so common that despite many of them being remarkable enough to warrant a postcard if they were solitary waterfalls in some other place…HERE most of them are not even named.

Lower Punchbowl Falls is a fun place to play in the water in the summer, and one can walk out into the creek and get a great view of the big falls. On this trip, it was too chilly to even consider going into the water for a view. It was lovely, and we watched others play around with each other and with their dogs. Despite the dog and child warnings, many people brought their dogs and children – and I’m glad. This is a place that really should be experienced by all.

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there's just a guy taking pictures of his girl. :-)

The area above Lower Punchbowl Falls has a rocky beach area that can hold a lot of people who want to enjoy the shade and cool breezes in the summer. In February, there’s just a guy taking pictures of his girl. 🙂

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail...

This is me, bouncing down the hill to get a better look at the falls. So much for staying on the trail…

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I'm standing is the one at the top of this post - jaw-droppingly gorgeous.)

Look at the falls! Are you looking? (My view from where I’m standing is the one at the top of this post –  the jaw-droppingly gorgeous Punchbowl Falls.)

Heading back to the trailhead along these truly remarkable and beautiful cliffs.

The rocks, trees, and cliffs are adorned with luscious moss.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

Thompson Peak as I slowly made my way closer to it.

When I broke camp I had only a few miles left to go, but also the most difficult part of the trail ahead of me. Since I’m out of shape compared to previous years, I intentionally chose an easy trail. However, the last 2 1/2 miles climb nearly 2000 feet to Grizzly Meadows.

Steep elevation climbs bring the views and the waterfalls that make it all worth the trouble. In no time I was marveling at Thompson Peak holding court at 9000 feet among the shorter, but just as spectacular, peaks nearby. Glaciers on the north face are each noted to be 2 miles across, but the map needs some updating because the snow fields are now tiny. I could only identify one glacier, so perhaps the second is gone forever.

Two fabulously gorgeous and athletic hikers refilled their water bottles at China Creek with me. I contemplated the unfairness of it all: gay men can be some of the most attractive humans on the planet, and they get to hook up with each other. D’oh! They were planning to summit Thompson Peak the next day, and planned to camp at the Meadows with me that night.

Falls on Grizzly Creek

Falls on Grizzly Creek. What do you see at the bottom? That’s right: swimming pool!

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

Another of the many falls on Grizzly Creek.

“Somewhere between the upper and lower meadow, one of the most incredible mountain vistas I’ve ever witnessed comes into view.” ~Art Bernstein, in Best Hikes of the Trinity Alps

Bernstein was not kidding. This place is amazing.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views.

This is what I go to the mountains for: jaw-dropping views. Grizzly Meadows in the foreground is surrounded by a shelf holding Grizzly Lake. Thompson Peak rises above it all. To see the falls, click this image for a larger version.

Pool beside my camp.

Pool beside my camp.

I found a place to set up camp beside a pool on Grizzly Creek at the base of the falls. My original intent had been to hit the scramble trail next, following cairns up the cliff. It would be another 1000 feet in one mile. At that point I was exhausted and simply didn’t have the heart for it. I had achieved 18 miles with no injuries, but I was wiped out. I imagined that a good night’s rest could give me the inspiration I needed, and spent the rest of the day playing in the meadow. I dropped my nalgene of wine into the creek to chill.

A doe lingered on the edges of my camp all afternoon. She was even skinnier than the other deer I had seen so far. I hope it means only that it’s early in the season, and not that she is starving.

After a good soaking in the pool beside my tent, in which I even unraveled my braids and let the water run through my hair, I felt good enough to climb over boulders and investigate the woodpeckers and snakes and other delights. In three days I had only one pestering blister, and I had to be grateful that I can still do this kind of thing, when many of my friends suffer with knee and shoulder and spine injuries that are forcing them to slow down in life.

In the evening I sat on a big rock in the center of the creek and let a refreshing breeze blow through my hair. I ate smoked salmon and cream cheese wraps and had a cup of wine. The chilled wine was so good I had a second cup. I had been planning to share the last of the smoked salmon with the gay men, who had camped at the lower meadows, but my hunger finally kicked in and I finished every last bit of the fish, down to licking my fingers.

The falls from Grizzly Lake

The falls from Grizzly Lake

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

Peaks around Grizzly Meadows

This is the last mile of trail. Bernstein writes, "The trail's slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots." Ha, ha.

This is the 19th mile of trail. Bernstein writes, “The trail’s slope occasionally exceeds 100% and approaches infinity in a couple of spots.” Ha, ha.

I looked at the cliff in front of me and… felt dismay. I could not summon the spirit to climb. Though I would be able to leave the pack at the bottom, I still didn’t have the heart to go on. I suspected I wouldn’t feel any different in the morning. I was so tired. It was so hot. And I was alone. I yearned for the enthusiasm of a friend to bust out with a smile and say, “Come on, Crystal, let’s go! You can do it!” But the deer was only interested in my leftovers, and the couple were conserving their energy for the next day’s climb. It had been nice to relax for hours, and I went to sleep feeling good, despite my misgivings.

The next morning the only thing on my mind was going home. I watched the orange sunrise light up the peaks and then drip down the steep slopes. I put my leftover oatmeal on a rock for the doe. I wished the guys a good climb as I passed their camp (btw, gay men are still gorgeous, even when you catch them brushing their teeth in a creek). Before the sun even touched the meadow I was on my way out. I took more photos.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

I turned around to take one last look at the trail through the Meadows.

Gray squirrel looks at me

Gray squirrel looks at me

Ponderosa pine cones

Huge Ponderosa pine cones

The remarkable bark of a Madrone tree.

Remarkable bark of a Madrone

indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush

It took me two days to get back to the trailhead. I was disappointed to have been so close to the lake and then let it slip away. But by then I had other things to be excited about, because once I got out of the mountains I would be heading to the coast to pick up my kid from her dad’s house. Instead of thinking of my missed opportunity, I thought about how great it would be to see Tara again.

Let me tell you, on day five this sight was aaaaalllmost as awesome as Grizzly Meadows:

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Lonely Dragon Wagon 2 at the trailhead.

Yes, I’m a nature girl, and yes I love the modern world. I’m a woman of complexity, what can I say? The Jeep seemed the epitome of luxury, with cushioned seats, AC, and satellite radio. I admit the stereo was blaring The Prodigy as I wound my way back out of the Alps, grinning.

 

I am just fascinated by superstitions of hiking in this blog post by my blogging friend the Foottracker. I haven’t heard of any in North American trails, but I’ll keep my ears open from now on.

FootTracker

DSC_3894(1) Mountains just beyond the city in Taiwan

Some people like to travel to visit urban jungles and watch other human beings, some likes to go hiking and explore natures of other countries.

If you are interested in hiking the mountains of Taiwan, it won’t hurt to hear some of the locals’ superstitions and guidelines before setting your foot on an unknown territory.After all, you never know who or what you might encounter in the foreign country. O_O Shivers ~ As I was typing this post I did felt a chill down my spine, so just bear with me here.

1. Please say “Excuse Me” before peeing in the wilderness!!

In Taiwan aboriginal culture, every tree has spirit or god living inside, and they are sacred. When one must go due to biological needs, and you happen to pick a spot near a tree, do say “excuse me” before letting…

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View east

View east from Beacon Rock September 2013

Beacon Rock

Beacon Rock February 2013

Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.

Scene of the ruined trail this winter. Photo credit: Washington Trails Association.

Sunday I was scheduled for some mandatory overtime, so Saturday Arno and I took the opportunity to try Beacon Rock again. And the trail is open!

We had tried to climb to the top of the rock during the Winter, but a rock fall on January 25, 2013 had blocked the trail. We had a nice day hike anyhow.

On our way out of town, as I waited at a stop sign, still in my Montavilla neighborhood, we spied a tamale vendor on a bike across the street. We pulled over and bought some on a whim. $5 for six small tamales.

I decided to cross the Columbia River into Washington state, and take highway 14 out to Beacon Rock, rather than head east on the Oregon side, then cross Bridge of the Gods like we did in February. Highway 14 is so pretty, and I actively try to avoid the mental boundary that tries to form because of the river. Washington may as well be another country for as often as I go there, and I live about two miles from the border.

frogs in the bathroom

frogs in the bathroom

Portland was blanketed with stratus and damp with mizzle. (Misty drizzle. And yes, that is an official meteorological term.) About 30 minutes east brought us into full sunshine and warmth.

We arrived at Beacon Rock in late morning, and parked near the restrooms because I needed to use them. When I turned to go, I spotted these two handsomes in the stall with me. I started snapping photos and I wonder what the woman in the stall next to me thought I was taking pictures of!

This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.

This sign is placed for all the rock climbers and wannbes that leave the trail.

We walked the short length to the base of the rock, and spent a little time looking at the cliffs. Arno spent a bit of energy trying to get me to say that I thought it would be fun to try to scale the face of it…but he didn’t get anywhere with that. (he never does, but he keeps trying 🙂 ) Instead, he admitted that the key point was that HE was excited about climbing the rock.

my rock climbing man

my rock climbing man

It’s about a mile to the top of this solitary rock standing in the valley. It is a basalt tower that formed inside the core of a volcano. As I wrote in my blog this winter, Henry Biddle built a trail to the top just because he wanted to, and I think that’s a wonderful reason. One climbs 850 feet, mainly on switchbacks. The trail is old, but in very good shape, paved and bounded with railings at all points. There are wooden bridges and steps and ramps. The views of the magnificent Columbia River Gorge never stop.

Biddle's trail

Biddle’s trail

An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.

An open door, where a locked door had been found on our first attempt.

Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.

Looking over the edge onto some of the switchbacks we traversed.

From the top there is a reasonable 200 degree view of the river. I had been expecting 360 degrees, but to be disappointed would be ungrateful. Gorgeous day! Gorgeous gorge!

We read the information sign talking about how the gorge was carved by the famous Missoula floods, as they carried rocks and icebergs between the two states we now call Oregon and Washington.  Ice dams in Montana burst periodically, 15,000 years ago, and sent catastrophic, otherworldly floods all the way across Idaho and Washington and into the Pacific Ocean. That’s a flood practically beyond comprehension.DSC_0131

Like with the tamales, I was still feeling spontaneous when we reached the bottom, and I suggested we go find some fish to buy.

The Indians in this region have been fishing since the first humans lived here. They have legal rights to continue to fish, and when they have too much, they sell it at little stands along the highway. I’ve been meaning to buy some fresh salmon for years, but I never seem to have the cash on me, or the time to stop. Today was my chance!

Only a few miles down the road, we found a sign “FRESH FISH,” and I pulled off the highway onto a little frontage road toward a long row of camp trailers and rickety wooden stands. I didn’t know how to choose where to go. We walked to one stand with a few people who looked up and greeted us as we arrived. We watched as the man behind the wooden stand expertly filleted a salmon for the two men standing there.

The man with the fish was named Frank, we found out later. Frank introduced his grandson, Benny, as a guy who was a lot of help around the place. So I asked 10 year old Benny, “What’s the difference between all these places selling fish?” I thought I was going to get an answer along the lines of different kinds of fish being sold, or different prices.

Benny deferred back to Frank, who went on for awhile about the trustworthiness of the sellers, the cleanliness of operations, and the reliability of the fish freshness. While he admitted that he was pretty sure he was related to every single seller out there, he couldn’t recommend any of them except one guy who wasn’t there that day. I suspected he was just trying to make a sale, till at one point in his animated stories, one of the guys buying the fish caught my eye and nodded his head at Frank and mouthed, “Buy your fish here.”

Frank with my $40 salmon

Frank with my $40 salmon. It looks small, but there was a lot of meat on it.

Choosing the fish, getting it gutted and filleted and packed with ice, all while Frank told his many stories, took some time. Arno said later that it reminded him of what Sherman Alexie had said when we went to see him in Portland. Alexie explained that you can’t hurry an Indian. Be patient and you’ll get what you want.

Chanterelles a few days old. What is left after I ate a bunch for supper.

Chanterelles

While we waited, the guy buying the fish asked me, “Hey, you want some Chanterelles?” Heck yeah! I followed him to his truck and in the back he had baskets filled with mushrooms he and the other guy had just picked. He scooped as many as I could carry into my hands, and scooped another huge handful for Frank, and we carried them back to the fish stand as the fillets were finally presented to the buyer.

Instead of focusing on me, Frank turned to watch a family that had just showed up. They all looked like they were of western Asian descent. Frank showed them the fish in the coolers while I went to grab a paper towel from the stand to wrap up my mushrooms. Arno told me that while I was gone, Frank had instructed Benny, “Remember, for brown skin, it’s $5 a pound.” I love that he heard that! What a delicious glimpse into the intricacies of commerce.

The brown family decided not to buy, and left. It was my turn to buy a fish. I was still a little suspicious about whether we were at the right place until Frank said, “There goes Green Toes,” as his earlier customers left. “That was his boyfriend with him. He was wearing shoes today, but when he’s in sandals, you can see his green toenail polish.” Frank went on talking about gay men and how uncomfortable he was to have them there, but glad for the business and the mushrooms. That sealed the deal for me. If this gay man was a regular customer despite the obvious problem Frank had with him, then it must be the best fish!

Benny with the dog

Benny with the dog

While Frank cut up my salmon, Benny’s mom Betty came out of the trailer and began talking with us. The dog came out from beneath another trailer. Frank explained that his son was gone fishing and that he was with a friend who had rights to net fishing. “The rest of us platform fish,” he explained. “Our family came in after the dam covered Celilo Falls, so we don’t get the net rights.” (Anyone who lives here soon learns that the sacred falls and fishing grounds were destroyed when The Dalles Dam was built.) I was learning so much standing there in the sun with the buzzing flies. Another Indian at a different stand turned on drum music from his truck stereo and Benny began dancing. They were a fun family.

Frank hadn’t weighed my fish, but suggested $35 and I agreed since Green Toes’ fish was about the same size and he had paid $40. When I pulled out my purse to pay for it, I found that I didn’t have change, and happily handed over $40. If we ate huge portions this was about five salmon dinners for Tara and me, the fish was probably less than 24 hours out of the water, and I had just had an hour of entertainment. It was totally worth the price!

Arno and I found a park by the water in Stevenson, and we ate our tamales and drank some Kokanee beer for lunch. Then we made our way back home and I began barbecuing salmon and zuchinni for supper, and fried up half the mushrooms in garlic and butter.

I hadn't set the tent up yet, but that's my camp, just above the water.

I hadn’t set the tent up yet, but that’s my camp, just above the water.

{as always, please click an image for the original size version}

If you were here, you would have to shake my hand and clap me on the back. I crammed a bunch of gear into my old pack and hauled that baby into the mountains yesterday. For the first time in 8 years.

columbine

columbine

I used to head out several times a summer. Since then, I’ve moved twice and don’t know the area, switched from summer parent to most-of-the-year parent, I’ve been sent on long-distance and long-term work trips the last two summers, and otherwise have found ways to fill my weekends so full that an overnight in the mountains just didn’t seem feasible.

This weekend I made it back home: to the woods.

My destination was High Lake, in the Mt. Hood National Forest (you recall the name of my favourite volcano). I chose the trail because it scored high on difficulty and high on solitude. The key idea here being: no people. The harder the hike, the less folks try it.

An example of the size of some of the blowdown over the trail. Egads.

An example of the size of some of the blowdown over the trail. Egads.

I left work early Friday and spent the time preparing my gear. You can’t believe how many dead spider carcasses I cleared from my pack. Dust, cobwebs, you name it. Arno had been kind enough to re-seal my waterproof Raichle boots while we watched Kinky Boots on Netflix a couple weeks ago. (It’s a great movie, you should rent it, then go see the Broadway show.) I found everything I wanted to have with me:  headlamp, compass, first aid kit, whisper lite stove, water filter, down sleeping bag rated to 0° when I bought it, but 12 years of lost down later, it’s probably only good to 15°.

Rhododendrons surrounded me nearly the entire length of the trail.

Rhododendrons surrounded me nearly the entire length of the trail.

Decadent pink extravagance

Decadent pink extravagance

I had a blast preparing food. With my daughter gone for a while this summer at her dad’s house, I am trying to clear the cabinets of food. I’ll eat pretty much anything, and I don’t require a balanced meal. I challenged myself to find backpacking food without going to the store. I grabbed angel hair pasta and a packet of powdered sauce, and a packet of tuna to add to the pasta for protein. I emptied a can of green chilis into a snack-sized ziplock for spice. (Don’t need the snack bags so much, now that Miss T is out of school).

For lunch I brought a tortilla to make a wrap, and coiled it into a cone and tucked it along the back of the pack to keep it in one piece.  For the filling, I cut a wedge of cream cheese and put that into a snack bag and added lots of dark meat from a leftover slow cooked chicken. I caramelized onions and garlic and put that in the bag. As I returned stuff to the fridge, I spotted a half-empty jar of sun dried tomatoes, and added some of those. Then double-bagged the snack baggie to prevent leaks. I hard boiled and peeled a couple eggs for a protein breakfast, and added home made oatmeal, walnut, and cranberry cookies. Then I mixed a little trail mix, with some of the amazing dried fruit and nuts I recently purchased from Nuts.com. (yes, an endorsement!)

Exposed rock beside the trail. You can see the trail, bottom right.

Exposed rock beside the trail. You can see the trail, bottom right.

The most important thing to bring on any outing of mine is coffee! So I filled (yet another) snack baggie with Peets Sulawesi Kalosi. For the lowest possible backpacking weight, I can’t go wrong with a plastic cone-shaped funnel and a couple #4 biodegradable filters. I chose the cheapest bottom-of-the-shelf wine I had, and poured it into a Nalgene bottle, since I love a fireside drink after a hard day humpin’ a pack. Why the cheapest? Because, if you are a camper or backpacker you will know, anything you eat or drink in the woods tastes twenty times better than it would in your kitchen.

Sadly, this is what most of the "views" consist of. I could tell there was a view out there somewhere.

Sadly, this is what most of the “views” consist of. I could tell there was a view out there somewhere.

I filled the fuel canister, filled my water bladder, collected some clothing, and packed it all into my pack. Dug my sleeping pad from the coat closet (I’ve been using it for a yoga mat) and strapped that opposite the tent on the outside of the pack. Testing the weight, I struggled to lift the whole contraption off the floor. And then decided to get a good night’s sleep and leave in the morning.

In the morning I hefted the pack again and was dismayed by the weight. I pulled out a few things, including a nalgene bottle, thinking “Now why would I need an extra bottle of water when I have the bladder?” The last thing I did in the morning was brush my teeth, and I took off in high spirits. Only remembering somewhere along the trail that I forgot the wax for my braces, when I began noticing how raw and snagged the inside of my mouth was getting…

Now, when I say I followed the ridgeline, I mean...

Now, when I say I followed the ridgeline, I mean…

The first thing I noticed on the trail was that it was high season for rhododendrons to blossom. They are among the most delightful things a person can find in the Oregon woods. These lush, gorgeous, pink explosions were along the entire trail. They inspired me to begin photographing wildflowers. Check out my set of wildflowers on flickr. I did get many, but not all, of the incredible smorgasbord of flowers.

A mess o' indian paintbrush and larkspur

Dazzling mix of Indian paintbrush and larkspur

What a beautiful cairn

What a beautiful cairn

Thank goodness for the flowers because the trail did not offer views I am accustomed to in the mountains. I remained below treeline and beneath canopies. The views, I could tell, were out there. Just not available to me. It was frustrating to see the glistening snow on a nearby volcano, with a view not even clear enough to identify which volcano.

I had Thrift Shop playing in my head all dang weekend. I kid you not. There’s this bird who, in a cranky elderly lady bronchitis voice, goes “whatwhat what what. whatwhat what what.” And, obviously, my brain filled in the rest of the song. “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got $20 in my pocket…” Crazy song to be hearing in my head in the woods.

There were many ginormous anthills seething with trillions of ants!

There were many ginormous anthills seething with trillions of ants! I had to walk right through them. shuddder.

I climbed steeply at first, then followed the ridgelines for a long time. My ascent continued steadily up, rising 2000 feet after 3 ½ miles. Then a quick drop of 300 feet to the lake. Dare I be snobbish on my first trip out? The person who wrote the guide must be catering to city people. It was not a difficult trail. I will earnestly agree that I stopped for breath. A lot. But it was a nice gradual up, up, up, up. No skill required other than fortitude.

The trail down to the lake still had a little snow

The trail down to the lake still had a little snow

There were many brushy areas where the trail was obscured by the gentle fingers of wild roses and gooseberries. Their little green claws brushed the bugs off, scoured down the first couple layers of epidermis, and gave me a pretty close shave as well. So that was all good.

Oh, and tons of scrambling over logs across the trail. That’s the downside to getting an early start on the hiking season: trails haven’t been cleared yet. I grabbed and flung branches when I wasn’t gasping for breath. But those logs. There must have been six of them chest-high to me. I just mooshed myself and my backpack onto them and toppled over the other side as ungracefully as any 43-year-old would. Passing a young, attractive couple who had stepped aside to allow me to negotiate a large area of downed trees and branches, the woman remarked, “Yes, the pack does change your center of balance, doesn’t it?” I thought, bless you beautiful child for not calling me old.

High Lake, looking up toward Fish Creek Mountain

High Lake, looking up toward Fish Creek Mountain

So yeah. The author nailed it for solitude about as accurately as he described the difficulty. That lake – a beautiful little 2.5 acre lake – was the busiest mountain lake I have ever seen. Is it always like this in Oregon? I have been so spoiled. I got the last available space to set up a tent, and thankfully it was far away from the others. While futzing around camp the rest of the day, I saw a steady stream of visitors bringing their dogs and dropping lines into the lake hoping for one of those gorgeous trout I saw. There were guys alone, guys who brought their buddies, and guys who brought their girlfriends. They were all younger than me. Even the dogs. In dog years.

To get myself in the mood for setting up camp, I went to get a cup of wine and …slapped my forehead. The nalgene bottle had WINE in it. Damn.

The tent beside the water, and also beside an outflow creek that provided a lovely gurgling sound to go to sleep to.

The tent beside the water, and also beside an outflow creek that provided a lovely gurgling sound to go to sleep to.

The "view" of Mt. Jefferson (I think) from my campsite

The “view” of Mt. Jefferson (I think) from my campsite

After I set up my tent and ate my wrap (ooh! It was incredible! Did it sound delish above? Well, it was even better.), I laid down in a sunny spot and didn’t quite doze, but was pretty much devoid of production of any kind. I came to life again to splashes and shouted profanity burst (unbidden, I am certain!) from the mouths of a dad and teenage son who wanted to flush the top layer of hike grime from their bodies, and had jumped into the lake.

Looking south. The larger campsite that held two groups of campers is out of view to the right. My camp site is out of view to the left.

Looking south. The larger campsite that held two groups of campers is directly ahead on the far side of the lake. My camp site is out of view to the left.

granite reflection

granite reflection

My rest had rejuvenated me. My muscles cried, “We feel great; let’s go on an adventure.” I answered supportively, “Great idea! What’s your plan? Hike to the top of nearby Fish Creek Mountain? The lookout? Find a trail around the lake?” “Find a place to go to the bathroom!” the muscles cried. “And after that?” I asked. “We need to take a whiz now! Whiz! Whiz!” So I scrambled through the huckleberries and gooseberries, over the hill, cushioned from any theoretical falls by thick layers of bark and pine needles. Business accomplished, I asked my muscles, “OK! Now for the adventure! Where was it you wanted to go?” And they answered, “Oh, we thought that was the adventure. We’re good now. Thanks.”

So I stayed at the lake.

The forecast had called for rain to arrive sometime in the night, and it was spot on. I had the rain flap on already, but I typically use it in the mountains for heat, even when there is no rain expected. My yoga mat was warm and comfy (and only 4 ounces), my sleeping bag was perfect, and so was the little hike pillow I have, that was a gift from a friend I hiked with once. I bounced out of the tent at 6am and brewed a delicious cup of coffee. I ate breakfast with my second cup of coffee, and said goodbye to the darling little newts in the lake.

cute newt

cute newt

<aside>These Rough Skinned Newts are wonderful. Either they’re blind or have no fear; they didn’t mind my hovering over them. They look like the last stage of water-dwelling creature before that virgin trek onto land: four well-developed limbs and eyes in front. They eat insects, gobbling them out of the water and blowing a little bubble with each gulp. When they meet, they touch

that face!

that face!

each other before moving on. Sometimes it was just one arm out against the body of the other, but I saw a group of three take turns hugging each other (just the two top limbs pressed on the shoulders of the other – a quick press – then off again). Ok, I obviously supposed it could be related to mating, but all of them did it: a quick touch, then move on. Whatever it was, I was happy to imagine it an innerspecies “hello.” </aside>

The trip back to the car took almost as much time as the trip in, because I kept lollygagging. Then I got the idea to take the empty ziplock that had held my pasta, and fill it with the delicate green pine tips of new growth on all the trees I passed. I’ve meant to try to make pine needle jelly my whole life, the way my Pa used to make it, and now I am going to try it.

In no time, the trip was over, and I zoomed back home to see if I could find time to do some laundry, pay bills, catch up on email and maybe do a blog post before it was time to go to bed and get ready for Monday.

Near the summit of Elk Mountain, looking west across the Tillamook State Forest

Near the summit of Elk Mountain, looking west across the Tillamook State Forest

I love being surprised, and that goes for just about anything. That includes randomly choosing a trail to hike, and having it turn out to be packed with views, challenges, variety, and shared with a great hiking partner.

Arno at the summit, with a beautiful marker placed by the Mazamas

Arno at the summit, with a beautiful marker placed by the Mazamas

8948921316_e6ac43b149_oArno asked if I had any suggestions on where to go for our Sunday hike. I pulled out a map of the Tillmook State Forest that I had purchased a few years ago. The forest is west of Portland, between the city and the coast. We found what looked like a promising 8 1/2 mile loop, and drove out highway 26 past Forest Grove and turned onto highway 6. If we had continued, we would emerge from the trees in the town of Tillamook, where they make the best cheese on this side of the country!

It was a chilly day, but lucky for us the trail began by heading directly up the side of the mountain. Soon we were comfortably warm, helped now and then by a sunbeam breaking through the clouds.

Here I try to show how steep the trail is, but the photo doesn't do it justice.

Here I try to show how steep the trail is, but the photo doesn’t do it justice.

Columbine

Columbine

We could not stop ourselves from remarking on how beautiful the trail was. The trail itself was in great shape. Obviously the Mazamas (a mountaineering group based in Oregon) had done a great job maintaining the trail. But it was the scenery beside the trail that caught our attention time and time again. In the cooler forest and higher elevation, spring is in full swing, and there is a profusion of wildflowers in dozens of varieties. The type of forest changed from rainforest ferns and moss to alpine coniferous to sundappled deciduous.

Since we climbed so steeply and so quickly, we were greeted with profound views of the surrounding peaks and valleys. Elk Mountain is new enough so that much of our trail passed exposed rock cliffs that have not yet eroded into soils. I think that makes a mountain more interesting. It also made our trail exciting, because there were times when we walked along a rock ridge that dropped off on both sides, or we walked along a narrow ledge between a wall on one side and a crevasse on the other.

Near the top. I am warm and unbuckling my gear so I can take off a layer.

Near the top. I am warm and unbuckling my gear so I can take off a layer.

It took 2 1/2 hours to get to the top, and I was exhausted. Almost 2000 feet in 1 1/2 miles – whew! We found a place off the trail and ate lunch. While we ate, we looked at the map and were somewhat confused to see the summit labeled over 2700 feet, when we had just found a sign posted that read: 2500 feet. After lunch, around a corner, we saw that we had NOT reached the summit yet!  After a discouraged sigh, I plodded forward up the steep, steep trail, and we finally made it to the top.

I’ve been in physical therapy for months, trying to fix a bum knee. I have a sharp pain when I run, and when I go downhill. It was the downhill that concerned me next, and Arno is nursing his own joint issues. My knee felt great, so off we went. And I did very well for another couple of miles. The descent started more ruggedly steep than the ascent. It’s more of a scramble getting down the back side of the mountain.

Finally at the summit of Elk Mountain (see the smile of relief?)

Finally at the summit of Elk Mountain (see the smile of relief?)

Then the trail meets an old logging road and gets smoother. The road is so old there are 20-year-old trees and shrubs growing right through the center of it, so please don’t imagine an actual “road.” The point is: no more scramble. And it’s that gradual decline that wastes my knee. But Arno felt good and I was so happy to be in the forest, that it only mildly dampened my spirits.

The flowers were amazing! There are carpets of small lavender-hued blossoms, Indian paintbrush, taller deep purple blooms like snapdragons, yellow, white, red, orange. I need to find my flower book that I used to hike with. Bear grass and columbine, daisies and buttercups. Every view was filled with explosions of color. There is nothing like spring in the mountains.

Bear grass

Bear grass

Me being silly in my Tilley hat. The waterfall is near the end of our hike, beside the river.

Me being silly in my Tilley hat. The waterfall is near the end of our hike, beside the river.

We reached the far northern point of the trail where it curves around the headwaters of the West Fork of Elk Creek, then followed the creek down down down till it met with the main branch, and we walked along the riverside in the bottom of the canyon. We were smart to approach the loop in the way that we did, and thus spent all our excitement on the grueling climb. Five hours in, all we had left was a gorgeous stroll along the river.

Well, ok, not simply a stroll, but an unrelenting downhill path. I walked backwards. I walked with my legs splayed out, stepping on the outside of the trail rather than in the middle. It all worked to ease the knee pain. Arno’s joints cooperated the whole time.

The very last hour was a flat walk along a trail so smooth and wide it would accommodate a wheelchair. (Arno joked that when I got old and my knee wouldn’t allow hikes anymore, he would push me in my chair along Elk Creek.) Without the dense canopy, the remaining sunlight reached through to us at the valley floor. Finally, at hour six, we returned to the trailhead and the truck. There is a lovely campground near there, and we have decided to bring the kids back, since the trail along the river is easy enough for unmotivated teenagers, and also has some promising swimming holes!

Sunshine through birches at the bottom of the valley

Sunshine through birches at the bottom of the valley

happy hiker

happy hiker

Our trailhead can be found on the far right side of the image. We hiked northwest and made a sharp curve and hiked southeast all the way back.

The Elk Creek trailhead can be found on the far right side of the image. We hiked northwest past the King’s Mountain trail, and made a sharp curve and hiked southeast all the way back.

Beacon Rock near Stevenson, Washington

Beacon Rock near Stevenson, Washington

Arno and I tried to hike up Beacon Rock today but our plans were foiled by a locked gate.

The trail held such promise

The trail (built in 1918 by Henry Biddle) held such promise

Columbia River Gorge from a height

There is no equal to the majestic view of the great Columbia River Gorge from a height. …but what is that? A door?

A locked door

A locked door, preventing would-be trespassers, wishing to pretend ignorance of the “closed trail” signs.

We parked and bought a season pass anticipating future hikes. A public service announcement to anyone heading this way: buy a pass at the trailhead! The Internet says there is no fee, but you must have a parking pass. A car next to us had been ticketed. Signs were clearly posted that the trail was off limits due to a rock fall in the winter. There were also notices that not all of the climbing faces were open. We walked round the barrier, and, finding the trail nothing but inviting – and noting the official Park vehicle parked across the road – remarked aloud that we would only be investigating the accessibility of the climbing wall.

I had hoped to find the rock slide and pick my careful way through it, and beg forgiveness should the Park official come after us. It was my first trip to Beacon Rock, and I eagerly anticipated ascent.

We checked the climbing wall, noticed some hardware fixed and waiting for one of Arno’s future attempts. Then, with no one about, we continued up the beautifully maintained trail. Around a couple turns we were able to see that there was no danger of us choosing to break the rules. The steel gate was chained and locked and there would be no passing it.

My purpose in acquiring the property was simply and wholly so that I might build a trail to the summit  –Henry Biddle

Don’t you love that quote? Mr. Biddle has my complete understanding! I suppose I’ll climb his trail another day. At the bottom of the trail again, we saw from the map that we were at the trailhead of another short hike to tiny Ridell Lake, and we went there instead. The day had begun grey, cold, and windy, but along the trail we were sheltered from the wind and the sun broke free. Soon we were warmed and delighted by the views of Beacon Rock, which we never would have found otherwise. I took the photo above.030

We heard a crash in the trees nearby that sounded as if it had been made by an animal as large as a deer, and both of us stopped in our tracks and listened. We caught no sight of the source of the noise until I looked at the sharp impressions in the mud at our feet, which confirmed that it had been a deer. We spotted wild daffodils as well – just 020about to bloom! And the sun lit up a gorgeous fungus on the cut end of a log along the trail. Click the photos to enlarge the images.

Beacon Rock was known as an important landmark to Native Americans, who called it Che-che-op-tin, and it was first described in English by William Clark (half of Lewis & Clark) in 1805 and again in 1806. It was formed in the core of a volcano when molten basalt erupted. The Columbia River, and perhaps the famous Lake Missoula floods, wore away the outside of the small volcano, and left this striking wedge of rock for us to enjoy a thousand years later.

Looking toward Oregon. See the PCT sign in shadow on the right.

Looking toward Oregon, the PCT sign on the right.

We stopped before returning home along the Bridge of the Gods because we wanted to see how pedestrians would cross the great Columbia. There was no footpath, but it was clear the Pacific Crest Trail came out at this place. Further, the sign across the entrance to the bridge also declared it to be part of the PCT. Arno pulled out his magic phone and soon had the answer from the Internet: hikers walk across the bridge and pay a 50 cent toll like everyone else. The speed limit is 15 miles an hour, so that makes up for the apparent danger of having no safe place to walk other than in traffic.

a flocking of shocking pink

a flocking of shocking pink

Hungry by this time, we went into Stevenson for lunch and had a lucky find at Big River Grill, approved by the Sturgeon General, where we had scrumptious salmon cakes for an appetizer and could hardly settle on what to eat since nearly everything on the menu sounded perfect.  Across the street, the Class of 2012 had flocked the Skamania County Courthouse.

Just to be sure that we had the information correct, Arno asked at the tollbooth as we left the bridge, and it was confirmed that people were allowed to walk across the bridge.

We stopped at Cascade Locks on the Oregon side for photos of the bridge, with picturesque snowy peaks of southern Washington in the background.

Arno at the Bridge of the Gods

Arno at the Bridge of the Gods

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