Dollar Lake

Whoa, it’s been a while. Three weeks since our last trip! I do believe that’s the longest we’ve gone since the spring. The week after Labor Day, we had another at-home weekend, and the week after that, Paul was gallivanting in LA while I went to Vegas with my Mom. Finally, this weekend, we made it out once again! It felt pretty damn good.


Summer is definitely winding down, and our high-elevation camping options are getting more limited (with the gear we currently have). We decided to head up to Dollar Lake (via Pinnacle Ridge Trail) on Mt. Hood before most of the mountain is covered in snow.


Dollar Lake via Pinnacle Ridge
Mt. Hood Wilderness (north side of Hood)
Total distance round-trip: 7.82 miles (including a small side trip to view Elk Cove)
Total elevation gain: 2,283 feet
Dollar Lake elevation: 5,960 feet

Click map for full GPS data


The original plan was to also hike up Barrett Spur after setting up camp, but we got a bit of a late start and ended up cutting it a little too close on time. I was pretty okay with that, as the hike in proved to be more demanding than I expected!



Stream crossing on the Pinnacle Ridge Trail


The Pinnacle Ridge Trail started out pretty gentle, which I was ever so grateful for (it’s amazing what taking a few weeks off can do to you). From the start, this trail is gorgeous. Huge trees and rock fields and streams and flowers. πŸ™‚ After the forgiving start, it wasn’t long before I was painfully aware that it had been a while since we’d done any real elevation gain. The trail quickly turns upward and has some pretty steep sections to climb. Despite my burning muscles and lungs, it felt pretty damn good to exert myself that way again.



One of the steep chutes to climb


After a couple miles, we emerged from the woods and into the beautiful Pinnacle Meadow. This section is pretty amazing with all the reds and golds, but very, very muddy and swampy. We somehow missed the use path that skirts around the right side, and instead headed straight up the main trail. Whoops. We had to tread very carefully here to avoid boots and ankles being swallowed by mud. Luckily we passed another hiker coming back down on the use path, so we knew it was over there for the return trip.



Wading through chest-deep brush



Just reaching Pinnacle Meadow


After cutting through the meadow the trail takes a left back into the woods, which was a relief (although still a bit of mud to deal with there). After a few more steep climbs, the Pinnacle Ridge Trail meets up with the Timberline Trail. Relief! Once we got there, we knew there wasn’t much climbing left.



Right after making a left onto the Timberline Trail (St. Helens has almost no snow on it!)


The side trail to Dollar Lake is only a few tenths of a mile further, and can be somewhat difficult to spot. I guess we weren’t looking hard enough, because we missed it. Luckily we knew that if we came to a point where we had a view of Mt. Hood and Elk Cove below, we had gone too far. So, once we got to that point we turned around, and chalked it up to a little scenic side trip. πŸ™‚ For future reference, the Dollar Lake trail is off to the right, and has three pretty large cairns at the base (which we also somehow missed). We had read that the side tail is about 370 steps back from the point where you first see Mt. Hood, so when we turned around, we started counting. Turns out it was pretty accurate!



Our first really good view of Hood



As I was standing there, this loud thing came flying right over my head… Drone maybe? They do make them in Hood River…



Looking down over Elk Cove, right before turning around and backtracking


We found the trail this time, and climbed a couple tenths of a mile further to Dollar Lake. The “lake” is little more than a pond, but it is perfectly round like a coin. The campsite right by the water was taken, as was the one across from that spot, but we found a great site just over a little ridge. No view of the water, but stellar views of Hood, Elk Cove, Barrett Spur, and the range to the north. Not to mention the bright fall colors that are coming out right now.



Home for the night



My little Buckles



Paul cutting some firewood



I was a little obsessed with the foliage



Adams and Rainier



Just chillin’



Okay, I had to post this one too, I think Buckley’s expression is hilarious


After getting everything set up, I got a fire going and we settled in for the night. It was a gorgeous night, completely clear sky with one of the brightest moons I’ve ever seen. We hardly needed headlamps it was so bright!



Right before sunset (click image to view larger)



Buckley playing with his new buddy Rory πŸ™‚



Adams and Rainier at sunset



The only picture I got of Dollar Lake





At some point during the night, the wind started to seriously pick up. Our little tent took quite a beating, but held up just fine. We decided to get up early enough to see the sunrise. It was still incredibly windy with gale-force gusts (making it awfully difficult to take a clear picture), and a little bit of rain had started to move in. Slightly unpleasant, but so worth it.



Good morning



Click to view the panorama a bit larger



The mist moving over Elk Cove


After a few photos, we decided to go back to bed for a while and just let the wind and drizzle pass. It did not pass. We eventually had to drag ourselves out of the tent around 10am to even gustier winds and harder rain (I wasn’t able to take any more photos because of the blowing rain). Not exactly the conditions you hope for when camping, but, we dealt with it. Our gear was pretty wet by the time we got everything packed up and on our backs. Once we were back on the trail, the wind immediately died down, but the rain/mist/drizzle persisted. Remember those muddy, swampy areas we fought through on the way up? Yeah, those are even more fun when heading downhill after a rain. I nearly lost my right foot in what felt like quicksand at one point. We were able to find the use path back down Pinnacle Meadow though, so at least that part wasn’t too bad. Once we were through that section, we were back to the chest-deep brush crowding the trail. This time, all those leaves were wet, so any remaining square inch of dry clothing was done for as we charged through. We finished the hike out in wet clothes, wet boots, and with wet gear strapped to our backs. Which really, isn’t quite as miserable as it sounds.


So glad we got at least one more mountain camping trip in before it starts snowing up there. Paul is trying very hard to convince me to camp in the snow… we’ll see. πŸ™‚

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Badger Creek

Back in action! As you may have guessed by lack of posting, we did not get out to the great outdoors last weekend. The week flew by, and before we knew it, it was Saturday morning and we had nothing planned. We decided to just have a weekend at home in the city, which was quite pleasant; went out for breakfast, bike ride, shopping, even went to the movies.


We figured we’d be able to get out for a longer trip over Labor Day weekend anyway, but Paul ended up having to work most of Saturday (and it was looking like the rest of the weekend held the same fate). 😦 I had almost given up hope on the weekend, but then miraculously, Paul was given the all clear on Sunday afternoon. We decided to act fast and salvage the back half of the weekend. We packed up our gear in about .2 seconds, snagged a Zipcar, and got the hell outta dodge. We decided on Badger Creek for a few reasons. 1) It’s at a relatively low elevation, so it wouldn’t be too cold, 2) our guide book gave it a high solitude rating, and 3) there were reportedly several campsites along the trail, upping our chances of getting one that late in the day (and secret reason #4: the trail is flat, and I didn’t feel like working that hard this weekend :)).


Badger Creek
Badger Creek Wilderness (east side of Mt. Hood, OR)
Roundtrip hike distance (to our site): 5.19 miles (the furthest campsite is reportedly at about 2.9 miles, making a 5.8 mile roundtrip)
Total elevation gain: 397 feet

Click image for full GPS data


(Also want to take a sec to thank Paul for getting all our GPS tracks pulled off the device, onto the computer, edited, and online every week. Thanks Paul!)


After stopping for a late lunch, forgetting the directions at home and having to do a quick backtrack, we made it to the trailhead around 5pm or so. The forest is interesting around here; it has a much broader variety of trees, including more deciduous trees than we’re used to. It’s supposed to be gorgeous in late October, so we may hit this one again. While the trail is a pretty standard forest trail and the scenery is not mindblowingly gorgeous, I found it to be quite charming and adorable. The trail follows right along the creek, which is beautiful. We passed by four campsites (three of which were occupied) before finding our home for the night. It was just perfect; big, secluded, and right along the water.



Home sweet home


We set up camp and started a fire in record time (we lucked out again on wood; the previous campers dragged a bunch of branches over, we just had to take a saw to ’em!). The sun was on its way down, but we still had plenty of time to enjoy the creek and play a little fetch with Buckley before the inky black nighttime took over. The darkening sky provided some very nice lighting for creek photos, so there are… a few. πŸ™‚



Looking down from our site. The creek is only a couple feet deep all the way across.


Just a few steps down from the campsite and we were at the water’s edge.












Getting really dark out now


The rest of the evening was spent enjoying the fire (really enjoying it… we hadn’t had a campfire since Cooper Spur!) and the bazillion trillion stars that showed themselves. Seriously clear sky. Gotta love being on the east side of the mountain.



In case you’re wondering, the strange green stuff at the top is Paul’s laser pointer. Fun with lasers and smoke.


After nearly melting my face off staring at the fire, I hit the sleeping bag and was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Something about the sound of rushing water just knocks me out. I’m usually a pretty light sleeper when camping, waking up at least a half dozen times overnight, but I think I only woke up twice this time. Incredible night’s sleep. In the morning, the sun was shinin’ and the birds were singin’. We had a leisurely morning drinking coffee and making breakfast and watching Buckles romp around in the creek. Life is good.



We even had enough dry wood left for a breakfast fire



Our trusty home away from home



Where I had my morning coffee. Not bad.



Contemplating his next dive



Look at this little guy! He kinda blends in, but you can see him just to the lower right of center. He was about 3 inches long or so.



Bucktown waiting while we pack up and put the fire out



Paul packing up Buckley’s pack. This might only be adorable to me. πŸ™‚



The water was reflecting the trees and sky. So pretty.


We were packed up and headed out by 11am or so. The short hike back out was uneventful and we were back to the car in no time.



Not much to say about the trail… it all pretty much looked like this.



Snowberry



See ya later Badger Creek


We decided to stop in Government Camp on our way home for lunch, had a quick burger and beer at the Mt. Hood Brewing Company Ice Axe Grill. Traffic on the way home was a nightmare. We realize it was Labor Day weekend of course, but it was especially heinous. Looking forward to the regular, non-holiday-weekend crowds again!

Green Lakes

Back to our usual adventures this weekend! My Dad flew out from Michigan on Friday for our annual camping trip. The tradition started as a Father’s Day gift in 2006, when we decided to take him camping with us (since my Mom would never, ever be down for that :)), and we’ve done it every year since. Up until this year though, it’s been car camping every time. Since we’ve come to love backpacking so much we decided to bring pops along for a new kind of experience.


We went back and forth a hundred times on where to go for the weekend, as the weather was not looking great anywhere near Portland. Mt. Hood, St. Helens and Adams all had forecasts of clouds and cold temps… not what I was looking for! We decided to make the extended drive out to Central Oregon to hike into Green Lakes, situated in Three Sisters Wilderness right between our old friends South Sister and Broken Top. This part of the state is considered high desert, so it’s almost guaranteed to be sunny (and it was definitely sunny in the daytime hours, but it surprised us all how cold it got that night). Still a good time had by all.


Green Lakes
Three Sisters Wilderness, OR
Elevation: ~6,500 feet
Total hike distance: 9.46 miles (this can vary depending on where you camp)
Total elevation gain: 1,746 feet (also varies depending on campsite)


Click image for full GPS data


We took off early on Saturday and made it to the trailhead around 10:30am, and were greeted by about a hundred other cars. Oy. Luckily most of these seemed to be day hikers, but it was still a pretty busy area this weekend. While picking up our wilderness permit at the trailhead, we saw that there was a campfire ban where we were headed. 😦 Bummer! We’ve camped without a fire before, but I was most disappointed for my Dad because I know he loves campfires. Sorry Dad!!





It’s about a 4.1 mile hike to the Green Lakes, but not too much elevation gain, which made for a very pleasant hike. The trail follows the appropriately named Fall Creek for the first couple of miles, which is just lousy with waterfalls.



One of the many falls along the way


After the trail parts ways with Fall Creek, it follows a smaller creek the rest of the way to Green Lakes. This part of the trail is very cool, with rock slopes full of shiny Obsidian glinting in the sun, stream crossings and tons of wildflowers.






You can see Broken Top peeking out between the trees



One of the many little stream crossings



Bright and colorful flowers everywhere


A short time later we arrived at Green Lakes! The area consists of the main Green Lake, and the smaller North and South Green lakes on either side. Next task was to find our campsite. The process of finding a site here was different than anywhere we’ve been. It’s kind of organized, but also not. There are a number of designated campsites around the lakes (I think about 28 in all), which are numbered and have corresponding post markers at each site. A map of the area with the numbered campsites is available at the trailhead.Β  But, there aren’t necessarily trails leading to all the sites; rather, they give you the GPS coordinates for each of the numbered sites, and you have to find your way there. Some of them are fairly obvious as they are close to the trail, but most of them take some wayfinding. It was early afternoon by the time we arrived in the area, so of course most of the sites that were relatively easy to find were already taken. Rather than all three of us wandering around trying to find a campsite, Paul took the map and GPS and set off to find our home for the night. With the GPS, he was able to find an available site (site #14 to be exact, near South Green Lake), hooray! This was one of the sites with no designated trail leading to it, and happened to be perched way up on a ridge. So, we climbed… straight up a fairly steep slope a good 100 vertical feet or so (and at that elevation, my Dad and I were huffin’ and puffin’ to get up there). Despite it not being the easiest site to get to, it actually was quite a nice spot. There weren’t any other sites within view which made it feel more secluded, and we still had a view of South Sister through the trees.


We got to work setting up camp, us in our tent and Dad in Paul’s brand new bivy sack. I think sleeping in a bivy sack makes Dad a more hardcore camper than myself… it’s basically a sleeping-bag-shaped tent with just a little head room on one end. Not for the claustrophobic.



Taking a little nap after setting up his sleeping quarters



ZZZZzzzzzzz… sorry Dad, had to post it πŸ™‚



That’s some nice handiwork to keep this thing stable



Beer time



Buckley’s already a very tired pup


After having a little Mountain House lunch (natch), we headed out to explore a bit more. Heading down the back of the ridge that we were camped on, there was a giant meadow sprawled out before Broken Top. Lots of cute little flowers (we were careful not to trample them), a creek, and amazing views to enjoy.









Broken Top



Adorable!



All the little plants and flowers made the ground look pink



Contemplating



The wide angle view: Mt. Bachelor waaaayy in the distance on the left, South Sister, and just the peaks of Middle and North Sister on the right






On the way back down





Back at camp, we downed a few more beers/glasses of wine/pulls of whiskey with dinner. When the sun started setting, it started getting cold. We all added as many layers as we could to keep warm… and the effing campfire ban didn’t help things! We did see a couple deer running our site after dark though, which was pretty cool. At about 9pm (maybe it was 10pm? who really knows) it was time to turn in, as it was just getting way too cold. We anticipated it would get down to maybe the upper 40s but damn… it was f-f-freezing. Luckily we all had several layers, so we were all just about warm enough overnight, but a few degrees cooler and we might have had some issues.



Night night


Usually once the sun starts to come up, it instantly warms up in the tent and I can sleep a couple more hours in peace. Not this time… I swear when the sun came up, it got colder. None of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags until it was tolerable, so we ended up sleeping in until like 8:30am! That’s late, for us. Even then, when we got out of our tents we were greeted with frost on the outside. Frost! Luckily after that point it warmed up very quickly, and we were comfortable in no time.


We decided to gather our food and cookset and have breakfast down by the water. It was just beautiful… sunshine, blue skies, and crystal clear views of the mountains. That morning made up for the entire frigid night.



Good morning, South Sister



The panoramic view over South Green lake



Paul bringing us our morning coffee


After a (very) leisurely breakfast, we slowly started packing up to head out. It was quite a pleasant hike out, very flat but the creeks and falls made up for it.






My brand new 64-liter pack (so exciting!!), before shoving everything in it



Broken Top






A trailhead beer to celebrate the close of a great trip





After heading back through Bend for lunch (at the Bend Brewing Co.), we stopped at Smith Rock briefly just to show my Dad. Still an awesome place… maybe one day we’ll be good enough at rock climbing to scale some of these walls!








Despite the freezing cold and campfire ban, we had a great annual camping trip with Dad. Hopefully he thinks so too! πŸ™‚

CooperΒ Spur

Holy mother of wow! It’s true that almost every hike we go on is dubbed my “new favorite,” but I think this one is most deserving. Paul had been wanting to do this hike since we moved here two years ago, and we finally made it. We ended up hiking up to the Cooper Spur Shelter and setting up camp there (around 6,600 feet), then hiking up to the true Cooper Spur, which is the highest point you can reach on Mt. Hood on a formal trail (at around 8,500 feet). The trail officially ends at Tie-In Rock, a spot where those continuing to the summit typically rope up.


Cooper Spur
Mt. Hood (NE side)
Total hike distance: 6.72 miles (for our route – we took some shortcuts, some longcuts, and I forgot to turn on the GPS in the very beginning :))
Total elevation gain: 2,725 feet
Highest point at: 8,507 feet


New discovery! I can actually show our GPS track on a 3D view of the terrain with Google Earth. Badass! Full track is still loaded into GPSies for download as normal, just click the image.


Click on image for the full GPS track data


We started from the Cloud Cap Trailhead near the historic Cloud Cap Inn – after driving in on the very rocky and bumpy dirt road. The trail first took us through old-growth forest, then some boulder fields, and then through some very soft volcanic ash (talk about a calf workout). After about 1.2 miles we came to the Cooper Spur Shelter. This is a stone shelter built some 60 years ago, one of only a few shelters still standing on the mountain today. Anyone can stay in the shelter, which might not be a bad idea in a storm or something, but we opted to pitch our tent just outside the shelter.



Toward the beginning of the hike, we could barely even see Hood



Hood, Cooper Spur Shelter, and our home away from home. I think this is a suitable location. Yes.



And looking the other direction, heyo!



Mt. Adams in the distance


While setting up camp, the clouds started to lift ever so slightly, which was quite encouraging. From camp, we had approximately two(ish) miles and 1,900 feet to go to reach Cooper Spur. The trail took us right along the rugged, heavily crevassed Eliot Glacier, which is just awesome. Soon we were switchbacking up the shoulder of the spur, all the while the grade was surprisingly gentle and forgiving. One mistake that we made: the final long switchback leads right across a snowfield, with no clear trail after that. We crossed the snowfield, weren’t sure what direction to take next, so we just decided to go UP. We climbed up the snowfield until it met back up with the trail on the ridge. We found a different trail back down (along the ridge), and saw where it met up with the other trail that we mistakenly took. I think it was around 8,100 feet or so that we went straight but should have cut right (the ridge trail is a little fainter and less obvious). If you look at the GPS track close to the spur, you can see where we took different routes on the way up and down. I don’t think we took the wrong trail necessarily, that one may just have gotten buried at some point. Oh well, our way was more adventurous. πŸ™‚



Getting ready to head up



The clouds and sun made for some very cool views along the way


Once we got about to the point where we hit snow, we were also heading straight into the clouds. It’s kind of a crazy feeling to be walking through clouds, but also see clouds high above you, and then look out behind you and see lots of clouds below you.



Looking back toward Mt. Adams



We were clearly not the first to make this mistake, judging by the existing tracks (notice we’re heading straight into nothingness?!)



Oh just a little ways to go



I know this looks very dark, scary, and cold… it wasn’t. It was beautiful.



Here we go


At about this point, the yucky clouds just sort of magically… lifted. There were still some white puffy puffs lingering around here and there, but the dingy foggy clouds were dunzo. We did have some pretty gnarly cloud formations for the rest of the night though, more pictures of that below.



The mean-looking Eliot Glacier



Looking down the other side


Before we knew it, we were on top of Cooper Spur! The view, to say the least, is absolutely breathtaking. This was also officially the closest we’d ever been to Hood’s summit. I know it’s still almost 3,000 (vertical) feet away, but it looks so close from there. Like you could just walk right up to it. The photos have a hard time capturing the depth and scale I think, but I can tell you this thing is just massive.



The boulder on the very left edge here is Tie-In Rock



Proof πŸ™‚



On the spur, passing clouds, looking out at high desert



Looking back out toward Mt. Adams, you can actually also see the Columbia River in the bottom left


It was suddenly very chilly and windy up there, so we took it in for a minute then started heading back down. As we did, the sun started to peek out here and there. Hooray!



Gentle sunshine on Eliot Glacier



Beginning our descent


The descent was quick and painless (especially with no snow :)), and we made it back to camp pretty quickly. Time for a quick dinner (Mountain House Beef Stroganoff and an MRE my cousin Bobby gave us) before the spectacular show that was the sunset.



Dinner time



Buckley just chillin’


This was easily one of the most insane sunsets I’ve witnessed. It kept us completely, completely engrossed for at least an hour, probably more. Of the hundreds of photos I took, here’s a small handful. πŸ™‚



The sun just starting to go down, but with a final blaze across the land



A nice cozy spot for Buckley to enjoy the sunset





We did end up having about 10 minutes or so of rain, which was little more than a light sprinkle. Even with just that little bit though, the sky started doing crazy things… swirling clouds, rays of sunshine, rainbows..



Ginormous rainbow over rays of light (which almost look like they are emanating from the bottom up, don’t they?)



Now, I probably snapped this photo just a few seconds too late, but I promise you this was actually a double rainbow for a minute. Seriously! Double Rainbow All The Way!



Lenticular cloud that totally looked like a flying saucer. I wonder how many people mistake these for UFOs?



Look closely… Mt. Adams is actually in there (toward bottom right), a massive mountain completely buried in sunset.


Once the sun went down, it did get just a bit chilly out (although really, not nearly as cold as you’d think). Campfires are technically banned above treeline, although there were a few obvious firepits around (and the gang of three that decided to camp about 50 feet from us had one going). We decided to take advantage of the little fireplace built into the shelter, and got a fire going in there. It was great! Β The place is small and cozy, so we just brought our little chairs and some snacks and beer in there to enjoy the fire. We thought we heard a mouse squeak once, but didn’t see anything. After a little while, we stepped out of the shelter into the completely dark night, and were just awestruck. The sky had cleared almost completely and we could see millions and millions of stars, including a 180 degree view of the Milky Way overhead, from one horizon to the other. While staring at the sky, we also heard the booming crack and roar of ice falling in the Eliot Glacier (which went on for several minutes). Epic.



Our little fire


We had decided early on that we were definitely waking up in time to see the sunrise. I set an alarm for 4:45am, and promptly dismissed it when it went off. Luckily we did wake back up around 5:30am, and after a little convincing, Paul managed to drag me out of the tent. I am so, so glad he did. I thought the sunset was epic, but this was like… double epic? We were completely above the cloudline in the morning and got up just in time for the sun to rise. Again, hundreds of photos taken, but here are my favorites.



Good morning Mt. Adams









Adams and Rainier, and even the very tippy top of St. Helens






There are no words



Dear Marmot, yes, I will sell you this photo for your catalog πŸ™‚






Oh Buckles



Hello Mayos



Wake up!





It was a magical 30 minutes. After that, we had a leisurely breakfast and started packing up camp in regular old daylight. We started the short hike out around 9am, and made it to the trailhead just as dayhikers were starting to make their way in.



Our wilderness permit



Buckley taking it easy while we pack it up



There was tons of lupine on the way down



Ready to go home



The old dusty trail



Mini meadow



Not exactly sure what this is… some sort of Penstemon maybe?


Cooper Spur is a very special place. We’ve only done a handful of overnight trips really, but this is certainly my favorite, and I can’t wait to go back.

Soda Peaks Lake… sort of.

We had been wanting to hit Soda Peaks Lake for some time, which was still snow-covered as recently as a few weeks ago. After seeing some reports that the lake was snow-free (hooray!) we headed there this past weekend. And yes, it’s now Friday and I’m just now getting this post up. It’s been a crazy week! The lake is situated between the eastern and western Soda Peaks, and has two trails coming in from either direction. We chose the western trail starting from Trapper Creek, which is an easier route (no, we didn’t wuss out… there is apparently a washed out bridge blocking the other trailhead).



Ready to go! Taken with my phone (and no makeup) πŸ™‚


This hike and the lake are absolutely, absurdly gorgeous, and provided the backdrop for a perfect weekend… with one colossal fail. I broke my camera. Yep… I was totally heartbroken. What happened, you ask? Well, when we arrived at camp, as per usual I set my camera down on top of one of the logs surrounding the fire pit. All was fine and good, until Buckley decided to start snacking on the end of said log, which of course caused the log to roll a bit, which of course dumped my camera off the side. Right into his water bowl. Totally my bad for setting it down right by the water bowl, so I guess I can only blame myself. But man, what a bummer! I did manage to take a few photos before this unfortunate incident, and took a few with my phone, so that’s what we’ve got to work with this time. The good news! I had already been saving up for an upgrade. The upgrade came a little sooner than I had planned, but all things happen for a reason right? I got my new camera earlier this week and cannot wait to hit the trail with it!


Soda Peaks Lake
Trapper Creek Wilderness, Gifford Pinchot National Forest (SW Washington)
Lake is at 3,770 feet
Total hike distance: 4.53 miles
Total elevation gain: 1,273 feet


Click map for full GPS data


Be warned! The mosquitos at the Soda Peaks Lake trailhead are vicious. They started swarming the moment we stepped out of the car. Even after dousing myself in bug spray, they still attacked. I think the key is just to move as quickly as possible. There were tons of the little buggers at the lake as well; not as bad as the trailhead, but still very annoying. I counted 23 bites when I got home, and that was with frequent re-ups of bug spray.


This is a pretty aggressive little hike in. Even though it’s short, it’s a climb. On a hot, sunny day it felt pretty intense… but it was over before I knew it. Once you reach the ridge, you then descend pretty rapidly down to the lake.



Toward the beginning of the trail


There were lots of wildflowers along the way, lots of the same ones from Devil’s Peak; Bunchberry, Columbia Windflower, Queen’s Cup, Foamflower, etc.



A blanket of green


Entering Trapper Creek Wildnerness area


The highest point of the hike is up on a ridge; once you reach that ridge, the views are amazing. You can see Adams, Goat Rocks, and Rainier, and you can also see down to our destination, Soda Peaks Lake.



Mt. Adams looming over Soda Peaks Lake


Looking down to Soda Peaks Lake, you can also see Goat Rocks at the far left of the horizon


Once we were on our way down to the lake, I was just delighted to see hundreds and hundreds of Avalanche Lilies! I haven’t seen these in person before, so naturally I was just tickled (literally squealing with every new bunch of them we spotted).



One Avalanche Lily standing alone


A whole bunch of Avalanche Lilies!


After descending about 600 feet or so, we were at the lake. It is just beautiful… my camera met its demise before I could take photos of the lake, so you’ll just have to trust me! When you first get to the lake, there is a very large campsite right where the trail meets the water. It is large and has a great view, but also… it’s right on the trail. We had bumped into a father and daughter earlier who recommended heading around the lake a bit to a more secluded site, which is what we did. We turned right off the main trail, on a much narrower trail that took us around the edge of the lake (you do have to climb over a few fallen trees along the way). The campsite was just perfect, right on the water but still felt secluded. We saw a family of four take the main campsite, but didn’t see any other people the whole time (very nice!).



Our campsite (taken with my phone)


Sometime during the evening, we heard a very loud BOOM! in the distance, which sounded an awful lot like a big tree falling. Trees fall, it happens, but it did make me a bit nervous about the trees around our site. One in particular was poised and ready to fall, but was leaning precariously against a neighboring tree (which happened to be right next to our fire and tent). We kept a close eye on that one!



Please don’t fall!


For a lake at 3,700 feet, the water was remarkably warm. Had it been just a tad warmer outside I would have jumped right in. I did wade in up to my knees to play fetch with Buckles though, and it was quite nice. I did manage to get a couple lake shots with my phone.



Looking across the lake at a rock slide


The sun shining on the lake


We had a delightful evening (despite the skeeters) beside a roaring fire, with lots of food and coffee and beer and wine. And of course, a very restful night’s sleep. We woke up early the next morning, made some breakfast and packed up. I was sad to leave… this is such a pretty little lake. I can’t wait to come back and take some proper photos. And do some swimming!

Shellrock, Middle Rock, and Serene Lakes

Happy Independence Day!


To take advantage of the long weekend, Paul and Buckley and I headed out for a two-night backpacking trip. We decided on a loop in the Mt. Hood National Forest (in Clackamas County) that includes Shellrock Lake, the Rock Lakes Basin (which includes Lower, Middle, and Upper Rock Lake – we headed to Middle), and Serene Lake.


Shellrock Lake, Middle Rock Lake, and Serene Lake Loop
Mt. Hood National Forest (Clackamas County)
Total hike distance: 12.23 miles
Total elevation gain: 2,407 feet


Click map for full GPS data


We found this loop in our One Night Wilderness guide book, and the distance from Portland and the distance between campsites on the loop seemed to make sense for the amount of time we had allotted (gotta have that Zipcar back on time!!). My only concern really was that it gave this loop a “Solitude” rating of 4. Out of 10. Not great right? We gave it a shot anyway, figuring if it was really that crowded and we couldn’t find a campsite, it was short enough to get back to the car. Over the course of the entire weekend, we saw eight people. Eight! I would rate this loop a solid 9 for Solitude, considering it was July 4th weekend and it was still so empty. Granted, the weather was not stellar (more on that later), so that might have kept some people away, but I certainly don’t think it’s as bad as the guide books made it out to be. The book also mentions some “poorly signed” junctions along the way, but honestly, this was probably one of the better signed hikes we’ve been on – plenty of signs and blazes to guide the way. Seems like the authors of that book need to revisit this spot.


We departed Portland on Saturday morning and made it to the Shellrock Lake trailhead in about two hours (because I was driving – we shaved a good 20-30 minutes off of that on the way home with Paul driving!). The last five miles or so are on a gravel road with plenty of potholes, so be careful on this one. So that we could hike out quickly on Monday morning, we decided to hike to Middle Rock Lake (about 3 miles in) to camp the first night, then complete the loop on Sunday and make our way back to Shellrock Lake to camp that night (about another 8 miles to that point), then just hike the .7 miles back out to the car in the morning. It worked out perfectly.



Toward the beginning of the trail


The entire loop is above 4,000 feet, so leftover snow can be a factor – it’s good to expect it and be prepared. We hit snow at about 4,530 feet, and had intermittent patches throughout after that. All campsites were clear of snow however, and even on the trail there wasn’t so much that you couldn’t find your way. Before I knew it, we had already hiked the three (or so) miles to Middle Rock Lake, our first destination. There are some campsites right where the trail hits the lake, but we found an even better (and more isolated) one about .1 miles further out on a narrow trail to the right, right on the water.



Middle Rock Lake from our campsite


Another view from our site (you can see some lingering snow across the lake)


It was already mid-afternoon when we got to this site, and despite the sun, it was pretty chilly out. After setting up, first order of business was to build a fire. We scrounged for some wood, adding another layer of clothing every few minutes it seemed. Sadly, most of the wood we found was pretty wet, but we had to try anyway.





By about 6pm I had on every single shirt that I brought with me, a hat, and my hood. It was cold! We got some sticks and twigs to start burning, and got a really nice bed of coals going, but it just couldn’t survive. I spent two solid hours huffing and puffing on that thing, adding twigs and more firestarters, but it was not meant to be.



The little fire that couldn’t


Eventually we had to give up… it just would not happen. It was a bit too cold to hang out outside without fire, so we ended up turning in to the tent around 8:30pm. Our tent gets remarkably warm with the rain fly on, and our sleeping bags are quite warm as well, so we ended up just having a nice cozy night in the tent. Paul had his Droid loaded up with movies, so we decided to put on a flick before bed (I know, how very rustic of us, huh?). Of all movies, we watched Zombieland. Nothing quite like the imagery of blood-spewing, flesh-eating undead to lull oneself into a tranquil night’s sleep in the middle of the woods, right?! I vaguely recall dreaming of zombies that night… but I think Woody Harrelson was in there too so it was okay.


We woke the next morning… very, very early… to a fog-covered lake. Like, gone… total whiteout. So, we went back to sleep for an hour or two. πŸ™‚ When we finally dragged ourselves out of the tent, the lake had cleared up but the ridge above still had fog moving through it. Amazing.



Fog moving through the trees above


Still clad in several layers, we cooked up some egg n’ bacon breakfast burritos and started packing everything up. At about 11am, hallelujah, the sun made an appearance! It didn’t stick around for too long, but it was nice to see for a little while.



The sun emerges just in time for us to hike on


Buckley really doesn’t care how effing freezing the water is!


We set out around noon to tackle the better part of the loop. By the way, what a great feeling to have a full day to hike, no worries about when we get started or when we need to get back to the car… the only goal is to get to camp before dark. It made for a very enjoyable hike. Our first destination was Serene Lake, about 2.5 miles from Middle Rock Lake.



After returning to the main trail from the spur trail to Middle Rock, it was two miles to Serene Lake


A cool downed tree along the way




After a decent amount of climbing we reached Serene Lake, and it was… serene. We were the only people there (that we could see anyway) so we had the place to ourselves. We hung out for a little while and made some lunch at one of the campsites.



Serene Lake


Buckley jumped right in… shocker eh?


A little chipmunk friend hanging out in the tree next to us


I actually made it into some pictures! Buckley and I having some lunch.


We will be climbing up to the ridge in the top left corner soon


Heyo!


After lunch we set back out on the trail. The remainder of the hike was a lot harder than I anticipated. There was a decent amount of climbing involved, plus heavier packs than usual (Paul got a new 70-liter pack, twice as big as mine!), plus some trudging through snow… plus we may have kind of spoiled ourselves lately with easier and shorter hikes. This hike was certainly a swift kick in the rear. A mile or so past Serene Lake, we had climbed up to a ridge high above the lake, and straight into the clouds. Luckily they parted often enough to catch some glimpses of the lake below.



A walk in the clouds


A (very) brief glimpse to Serene Lake below


And of course, some more snow


After a little dip in the terrain, we climbed back up to another great viewpoint over the lake. The clouds had also lifted a little more by this point, hooray!



Doesn’t seem like you’d be able to see much from here…


But then bam! Serene Lake!


The next “checkpoint” along the loop is Cache Meadow, a low-lying meadow full of pretty little wildflowers three miles from Serene Lake. We descended pretty rapidly from the ridge to get to this point (I tried to just enjoy it, and not think about the fact that we’d soon have to climb back out!). I’m not sure if it dries out later in the summer, but it was pretty wet and marshy this weekend. We slogged around a bit to look at the different flowers.



A small section of Cache Meadow


White Marsh Marigold (I found out just now when looking these up that they’re poisonous)


Some Shooting Stars, and I think the little yellow guys are Western Buttercup (but not positive)


After Cache Meadow, we were in the home stretch. It was just a couple miles back to Frazier Turnaround (which closes the loop portion), and then 1.2 miles back down to Shellrock Lake. Victory is close. But of course… we had to do some serious climbing again to get there.



Some cool upturned roots. I guess you can’t really get the scale here, but they were huge.


Back up to a snowy ridge (actually an old Jeep road) to close the loop


We made it to Shellrock Lake right around 5pm or so, and found a great campsite right on the water. Bonus! A previous occupant had gathered a huge pile of firewood and left it there! My least favorite part of camp-building is collecting wood, so this was a very welcome site. And extra bonus, the wood seemed to be relatively dry. We threw a bunch of twigs into the pit and dropped in a firestarter, and like magic, we had a fire. This stuff burned right up, and soon we had quite the roaring fire. This thing was devouring logs – we could hardly throw wood on it fast enough. While we were getting the fire going, a couple hiked past that, as it turned out, had stayed there the previous night and collected all that wood – but couldn’t get a fire started with it. I offered for them to come enjoy the fire, but they were on their way out to their car, not wanting to camp in the cold again. For some reason, I felt sort of guilty. Should I have offered to let them camp there? Given the rest of the wood back to them to set up their own camp? What is proper etiquette in this situation?? They carried on. After the previous night without a fire, I was especially appreciative to have this glorious, wonderful, soul-warming source of heat. So, this fire was in their honor.


Even with the fire, it was a chilly night and I was exhausted, so I retired my camera for the evening. I will try to paint a picture. Expansive blue-green lake backdrop with mist gently rolling by, butt plopped in front of a crackling fire as the sun goes down, glass of wine in hand, a giant bowl of orzo mac and cheese with chorizo and garlic that Paul made (actually made – not a prepared freeze-dried meal in a pouch, but cooked fresh at camp) in front of you, and a very tired and satisfied Chocolate Lab cuddled up in your lap. I mean really, does it get any better?


We woke to another foggy morning, but not quite as cold as the night before. The car was due back fairly early in the day, so made a quick breakfast and started packing up.



Shellrock Lake just starting to reveal itself


So pretty


Skunk Cabbage, named for its putrid scent, although we didn’t notice a smell (but of course Buckley went right for it)


I was trying to take a picture of the waterbug, and caught a little salamander friend underwater as well!


I thought these were so cool, but I cannot seem to identify them! Anyone know? They were about 6 inches tall.


The remaining .7 miles back to the trailhead (mostly downhill) felt like a breeze! We were back to the car in 30 minutes.



The trail back to the TH lined with wildflowers


Not exactly sure what this flower is either, might be more identifiable if it was fully bloomed…


One of my personal favorites, Beargrass


It was truly a wonderful weekend. There is something very satisfying about being totally self-sufficient for a couple days, sleeping on the ground and carrying everything on your back. We’ve kicked around the idea of taking a month or two off and just backpacking… who knows? The idea of being away from civilization for that long is enticing. But, I will admit, once we were back home I made a beeline for the shower. πŸ™‚

June Lake

Summertime finally made its long-awaited debut in the PNW this weekend! We had sunny skies, temps in the 70s and not a drop of rain. To take advantage, we headed north (well, north east) to Mt. St. Helens for some backpacking fun. My cousin Bobby decided to get off the base for the weekend, and drove over from Ft. Lewis to meet up with us.

We decided on June Lake as our camping spot after sort of stumbling upon it online earlier in the week. It’s a gorgeous spot, but for some reason there isn’t a ton of info on it out there and only small blurbs in our hiking books… which is a good thing, that means less people. πŸ™‚ We also added in a few extra miles by hiking from June Lake to Chocolate Falls after setting up camp.

I also want to note that the photos from this trip are not stellar. I forgot that I had set my ISO to 1600 for some night shooting last week, and forgot to change it. As a result, all of these photos are grainy and noisy. 😦


June Lake (continuing on to Chocolate Falls)
Mt. St. Helens, Gifford Pinchot National Forest
Distance to June Lake from trailhead: 2.8 miles out-and-back
Elevation gain to June Lake: 447 feet
Total hike distance (including loop to Chocolate Falls): 5.73 miles round trip
Total elevation gain (including loop to Chocolate Falls): 1,150 feet


Click map for full GPS data


The hike from the trailhead to June Lake is about 1.4 miles and very little elevation gain. Not much in the way of scenery (aside from a peek or two at the summit), but at least it’s short, so you arrive at the lake in no time.Β  June Lake is situated at about 3200′ on the south side of Mt. St. Helens. This is just about at the treeline, so the terrain is very interesting; lush forest and waterfalls on one side, dry and sandy terrain with small, scrubby vegetation on the other side, and vast, barren lava fields just beyond that.



Hiking in, pretty close to June Lake at this point.


Little baby trees on the dry terrain


The name June “Lake” might be a bit deceiving, it’s actually fairly small, more like a pond (although perfectly clear and still). A giant basalt cliff provides the backdrop for the lake, complete with a dramatic waterfall feeding into it. There are a handful of campsites scattered along the water and further back, but we scored a sweet spot on the water directly in front of the waterfall! We got there at about 2pm and were the first campers to set up. I was pretty shocked by this. I would bet this place gets more popular later in the summer, so it would probably be a good idea to arrive early to claim your spot.



The view from our campsite! For real?!


The water is actually much clearer than that… Buckley had just taken a run through it πŸ™‚


After setting up camp we decided to seek out a path over to that waterfall, as we had seen some people over there a little earlier. Well, Paul and Bobby (and Buckley) took one trail and actually made it over. I totally didn’t think they were going to find a trail the way they were going, so took a lower trail and dead-ended. 😦 Oh well, at least I got some pictures of the guys over by the fall.



There they are!


Bobby actually took his camera with him over to the fall, so here are some of his:



Looking back at our campsite


This looks… scary


Looking up from the bottom of the fall


While I was stuck halfway around the lake, looking longingly at the waterfall that I could not reach, I saw some cool vegetation.



Fiddleheads everywhere!


And what the heyo are these? Whatever they are, they are everywhere and they hurt!


After returning from waterfall adventures, we set out on another hike to Chocolate Falls, which was about a 3-mile loop from our campsite. This extra bit took us through forests and over some serious lava fields to the falls.



Just starting


Getting into the rockiness now


After a while, the trail sort of disappears and you are left to navigate the lava fields by making your way from pole to pole.Β  DIY hiking, if you will. I love climbing over rocks, but after miles of it, the ankles and shins really start to scream.



Finding the poles


Just after that ridge, we were suddenly greeted by Mt. St. Helens herself! What a mountain. This is the closest we had ever been to St. Helens. It’s pretty majestic up close.




Making our way through the lava


It was kind of crazy to stand on St. Helens looking back at Hood… it’s usually the other way around


Mt. Adams peeking over


The rough terrain/heat/sun made it seem like forever (to me anyway), but we finally reached Chocolate Falls. These falls “shut off” every night, and every day around 11:30am they turn back on as the glacier above melts in the daylight. The water picks up a lot of volcanic silt on its way down, which often gives the water a brown, chocolate milk effect. It looked pretty clear when we got there, but it’s a cool spot nonetheless!



Bobby at the top of the falls


Chocolate Falls (I thought the rocks at the bottom sort of resembled big chunks of chocolate…)


Where the water comes from just before diving over the cliff edge


While at the top of the falls, we ran into a family of four that was on their way down after summiting earlier in the day. I chatted for a little bit with them, the dad going on and on about how breathtaking the summit is. He revealed that it was his 11th time summiting, his wife’s 2nd, and his son’s 1st time (he looked to be about 10 or 11 years old I think). I congratulated the son on his first summit and asked him how it was… he looked at me and gave me an “it was okay” shrug. Haha! The dad immediately scolded the boy and informed him that it was, in fact, the time of his life. πŸ™‚ Perhaps he will appreciate his accomplishment later in life.



Ready to head back


The way back was even more grueling, crossing lava fields with even larger boulders (and hence larger gaps between boulders). At some point I read a trip report that mentioned hikers were left to hop from boulder to boulder in the last stretch… they weren’t kidding! My ankles and feet were sufficiently thrashed upon our return, so we just hung out at camp for the night.



Getting firewood ready


Not a bad backdrop for the campfire, eh?


Getting that fire going


Completely pooped after a full day of hiking and swimming


We brought our usual freeze-dried meals along, but this time we also got to try some Army MREs – Meals Ready-to-Eat – that Bobby was nice enough to bring along. Every pre-packaged meal is 3,000 calories, so you can eat parts of it all day long to sustain.Β These things are kind of amazing. There is a main entree piece (such as Chili Mac, Beef Stew and Ravioli) and it comes with this crazy little heating bag. You drop the entree into the bag and add a little water, and this thing heats up to boiling to warm the food. Crazy! There are also little packages of cookies, bread, powdered beverages, etc. There is even a little condiment package included with the cutest little 1″ tall bottle of Tobasco. And you know what? The meals don’t taste half bad.



Everything fits into neat little packages


Going through the contents


Okay, one more look at the waterfall


A little further down the shore


Enjoying our fire, which eventually was roaring


As it got darker, the stars really started to come out. It’s been a really, really long time since we’ve been somewhere where we could see stars like this… the kind where you can just stare at the sky for hours and hours, and even spot the occasional satellite orbiting. It felt pretty good. I tried to take some astro-photos, but my camera is just not equipped for it I don’t think. I left the shutter open for 30 seconds but the photo below is all I could get. If you click on it to make it larger, you can see a little better… but it still doesn’t do it justice.



Tried to capture the stars…


After staring into the sky for so long that my neck ached, we turned in for the night. I have to say, this was the best I’ve ever slept outdoors. I don’t know if it was the rigorous hike, all the sunshine from the day, the white noise of the waterfall, or perhaps the beer (come on, you didn’t think we wouldn’t have beer did you?), but I slept like a rock. Usually when we camp, I inexplicably wake up a good 7 or 8 times during the night and readjust. This time, I woke up twice. Twice! It was amazing. We even got to sleep in later than usual, even Buckley was tuckered out. Here’s what he looks like first thing in the morning:



Hehe!


Once we realized we slept in (oops!), we made breakfast and packed everything up pretty quick so we could attempt to get the Zipcar back in time. I always dread that point in time when the realization that we’re heading back to reality sets in. We bid June Lake and the waterfall adieu and headed out to the car.



On our way back out to the real world


We will totally, absolutely, definitely come back here again. I am still shocked at how alone we were out there, given the gorgeous weekend weather and the easy hike in. Perhaps we will stay here when we inevitably attempt to summit St. Helens…?