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.

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McNeil Point

Wow.

On quite possibly our most amazing hike so far, we headed up to McNeil Point on Sunday with fellow Jiver and hiking enthusiast Matt (who also joined us on Nesmith Point earlier this summer… congrats on being the first repeat special guest! :)). Inspired by some recent trip reports, it looked like the time was right for this hike, with the snow on its way out and the wildflowers still in full bloom. This was only our second hike actually on Mt. Hood, and it brought us closer to the summit than we’ve been before. It’s a humbling experience to say the least.


McNeil Point
Mt. Hood National Forest
McNeil Point Shelter: ~6,100 feet; McNeil Point: ~6,870 feet
Total hike distance: 11.48 miles (including trip up McNeil Ridge)
Total elevation gain: 3,312 feet (including trip up McNeil Ridge)


Click map for full GPS data


We started up the trail at Top Spur trailhead (about 3,940 feet), and while it started climbing right out of the gate, it was pretty gentle.Β This hike is absolutely full of breathtaking views at every turn, with the first one coming around .7 miles in. We rounded a bend on the trail and came face to face with monstrous Mt. Hood. Note: Not only is the trail full of views, but also full of confusing junctions. There are trails criss-crossing all over this area… if you’re heading up, make sure you have clear directions as it’s easy to make a wrong turn (which we actually did at one point, and had to backtrack). The directions in the Sullivan book were pretty solid.



Well hello, Hood


Blankets of wildflowers


On a typical hike the major payoff view comes at the end of your climb. This time, we were spoiled with amazing views of Mt. Hood right away! And not only were we treated to mountain views the entire way (which you’ll see), but I’m pretty sure that we saw every single variety of wildflower that we’ve ever seen and then some, all on this hike. Ridiculous.



Matt (and Buckley’s butt)


I couldn’t resist the Tiger Lily


I am pretty sure these are Subalpine Mariposa Lily – anyone know for sure?





At about 3.5 miles or so, we came to a pair of shallow but perfectly clear tarns reflecting the mountain above. This part was a little confusing as the trail forks and it’s not obvious which one you should take (FYI, you can either fork right just after the first tarn, or go a bit further on the left-hand trail and take an unmarked side trail to the right that spurs off by the second tarn and meets up with the main trail). From the tarns you have a clear view of McNeil Point above.



The far point directly below the Hood summit is where we’re headed


You will know you are on the right trail when you hit this McNeil Point sign about .3 miles after the tarns. Despite this very clear sign, later on we saw people hiking through the protected meadow. Hey, you suck.





Shortly after this point we started to hit snow. We were expecting and prepared for a lot of snow, and in the middle of a sunny day we were fully expecting to post-hole through it. It actually ended up not being too bad. Most of the snow patches were pretty packed down with clear boot tracks to step in, the other parts were soft enough to kick in your own steps. At about the same time we encountered snow, we also encountered ridiculous views of Mt. Adams, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. I just can’t get enough of this.



Mt. Adams in the distance


That tree looks a little threatening…


Looking back over the outflow of the Glisan Glacier with (L to R) Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainer and Mt. Adams


Most of the trail was clear of snow, but there were a few large snowfields to cross. It looks worse than it was. It was pretty comfortable to cross even without poles. It was also a very hot and sunny day, so I took advantage of the snow by mashing handfuls of it against my forehead and the back of my neck for quick cool-downs. πŸ™‚



The first big snow field


Another wildflower first for us! Got to see some Western Pasque Flower, also known as “Hippie on a Stick.” Heheee!


Before we knew it, we were at the McNeil Point shelter. This is a great place to declare victory and have some lunch, but the trail does continue up from here to the actual McNeil Point, adding another 800 feet or so of climbing. I think most people do turn around at the shelter, but that trail was beckoning to us…



McNeil Point Shelter


The trail just kept going… how could we stop??


We decided to press on and get to that point. It doesn’t look all that far away, but man… it’s up there. I struggled with this last stretch. I could only take about ten steps before I had to pause and catch my breath (I distinctly remember this feeling from South Sister!). Paul was crushing it, but little by little I made my way up.



Buckley stood there and cheered me on until I made it up this part. He is awesome.


About halfway up this extra hike I had to sit down for a minute. So did Buckley. πŸ™‚



Taking it in


The trail ends at that big rock outcropping just to the right of middle


So I have to admit… I didn’t make it all the way to the very end. I stopped probably a tenth of a mile short, and decided to hang back to take pictures of Paul. I was proud of myself for getting as far as I did anyway, since I really wasn’t sure if I could make it up the ridge. In any case, this is the closest either of us had been to Hood’s summit. It felt like it was right there! I felt microscopic next to this beast.



Almost there…


Made it!


After taking it in for a minute, we headed back to the shelter area for a quick lunch and then our return trip. The descent was relatively uneventful, but it was nice to revisit all of the gorgeous views again.



Hippies!


The view on the descent


Thousands of Avalanche Lilies


We did briefly meet one PCT thru-hiker when we were almost done. It was the first time we’d met one in person, very exciting! People actually backpack the entire Pacific Crest Trail, from Mexico to Canada, over the course of several months. That’s 2,650 miles of walking. The woman we met (I regret I didn’t ask her name) was French, and had started from the Mexico border 3 1/2 months ago by herself. She said it was more difficult than she though it would be – not the hiking so much, but being dirty all the time. I totally identify! I feel so grimey after one day I can’t imagine what several weeks or months feels like. Even so, the thought of conquering the PCT is enticing… what an accomplishment. Maybe next year.


This was one of the most enjoyable hikes yet, and we will undoubtedly return. There were lots of great campsites along the way, so I have a feeling this will turn into a backpacking trip in the near future… πŸ™‚


p.s. I am just about to wrap up a beginner photography class that I have been taking for the last few weeks, which has been awesome! The day before this hike my class went on a little photo outing around downtown Portland. I uploaded some of my favorite shots to my Flickr photostream, if you’d like to see them you can click on the “More Photos” link in the Recent Photos box to the right!

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!

Devil’s Peak

This is a hike that taught me not to go in too cocky. Eight miles, 3200 feet elevation gain… meh, that’s not so bad. Lesson learned!

This weekend we took on Devil’s Peak (via Cook Creek Trailhead) for the first time with Don, one of Paul’s coworkers. Devil’s Peak is tucked away in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness of the Mt. Hood National Forest, a little southwest of Hood.


Devil’s Peak
Mt. Hood National Forest, Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness
Summit at 5,045 feet
Total hike distance: 8 miles
Total elevation gain: 3,200 feet
(Our GPS data is slightly off near the trailhead, but mostly accurate)


Click map for full GPS data

The trailhead is right off the side of the road, it will sneak up on you!


Two words: butt-kicker. The hike report I had read on this hike was terribly dramatic, with tales of endless climbing, gasping for air and sweating uncontrollably; at first I figured someone was exaggerating the details in order to tell a good story, but quickly realized that that is exactly how it is. It became painfully clear that I have been slacking this year (I can’t speak for the guys though, who bounded up the trail with no trouble… almost like they were part machine… hmm…).The trail is steep right out of the gate, with absolutely no warmup time. The first mile or so is pretty brutal, climbing up and up through dense forest. After that mile, the trail is slightly tamer, and starts to open up to gorgeous viewpoints. The trail is also lined with tons of wildflowers the entire way, including several I haven’t seen in person before, which was a nice distraction from my racing heart and profuse sweating.



Tons of Salal everywhere


Some Cascade Lily right where the trail starts to open up to the views – this was the only bunch on the entire trail


Red Paintbrush



The trail is over so slightly more forgiving after that first mile, but is always climbing at a pretty steady grade. There are a few spots with well-worn side trails to viewpoints and campsites along the way, perfect opportunities to catch your breath and take in views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and even Mt. Rainier on a clear day (which we had, woot!). It took most of my energy to even stay within sight of the guys ahead of me, so I really didn’t take too many photos on the way up. My mission was just to get there without keeling over. All physical over-exertion aside, this is a really enjoyable hike. Great scenery, and you really feel like you’re working hard toward something. It makes the summit feel that much more awesome.


A gentler side to the trail


You know you are close when you come to the junction with the Hunchback Mountain Trail; you make a right here, and very shortly thereafter is the glorious “<— Devil’s Peak Lookout” sign pointing you to the left toward the summit. It felt great to get to the summit on this one and breathe a collective sigh of relief. There are little wildflowers everywhere carpeting the ground; Phlox, Paintbrush, Larkspur, and I’m kicking myself for not taking a picture of the Subalpine Mariposa Lily, which is apparently somewhat uncommon. The views are fantastic and the weather was perfect – I could have stayed up there for hours. Actually, we did spend quite a bit of time hanging out up there, drinking beers and just relaxing. Super fun.



Don and Paul enjoying a very well-deserved summit beer


View of Mt. Jefferson from the summit


There is a very cool fire lookout situated at the summit here, which you can actually overnight in if it’s not already claimed. I’m not sure if I could sleep there though; it’s pretty dirty and there are reports of mice scurrying about at night. I think I’d prefer a tent.



The old fire lookout


View from the lookout


Giant shutters around the outsides


The way up


The bed looks inviting and all…


The lookout was surprisingly stocked with wood, supplies, snacks, fresh water and toilet paper… if you did decide to make a night of it, you’d be all set (and I can easily see how one might get to Devil’s Peak and not want to leave). There is supposed to be a log book somewhere, but all I saw were some nonetheless entertaining notes on a single piece of paper from visitors over last year.



Josh, Cody and Toby had a badass weekend.


The view of Hood out the front door


If you take the narrow trail past the summit, down and to the left a little ways, you come to another amazing viewpoint (on a small and steep rocky slope though, use extreme caution!) with views of Hood, Mt. Jefferson and even Three-Fingered Jack on this perfectly clear day. It was nice to do a hike with such a view of Jefferson, we don’t usually get that.



Trying to figure out what’s what on the horizon


View of Jefferson


Buckley found himself a nice shady spot up there too


This is either Rock Penstemon or Barrett’s Penstemon… I simply don’t know… which was growing straight out of the rocks at this viewpoint. Anyone know for sure?


My rugged mountain man


I’m including this picture because it’s the only one I’m almost in. See reflection in the left lens of sunglasses. πŸ™‚


After taking in Mt. Jefferson, you turn around and are face-to-face with Mt. Hood.



Mt. Hood


Up close and personal


Mountain love


After lounging around in the sun a little longer, we threw the packs back on to head back the way we came. Needless to say, the descent is almost as hard on the knees and toes as the climb is on the thighs and calves! At least I was able to stop and take a few more wildflower photos, now that I was actually able to keep up with the gang.



Wild Rhododendron were in full bloom


Bunchberry carpeted the ground


Dainty little Foamflower (I think?) was also in abundance


Columbia Windflower (in the Anemone family)


There were also Vanilla Leaf and Queen’s Cup all over the place that I didn’t get photos of. I was loving the flower variety!



One more look at that single Cascade Lily on the way down


Walking through a Rhodie wonderland


We got back to the trailhead in no time, and proceeded to nom out on BBQ, mac n’ cheese and deep fried pickles at Skyway in Zigzag (our first time there – it was totes awesome). This hike was quite the workout, and completely worth it, even despite the grueling ascent. As Don put it: Some trails are happy and nice and give you a good feeling, but not this one. This is a mean one. This one is like… “#&@%Β you.”

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™‚

Oneonta Gorge

I didn’t realize how much I missed hiking until stepping into the Gorge after two weeks away from the trail. I think I actually breathed a sigh of relief.


Paul’s friend Ben came to visit us for the weekend from Michigan. Can we pause to reflect on that for just a moment? A friend… not a family member or anyone else who is legally obligated to spend time with us… came to visit! Ben told Paul when we first moved that he would be the first friend to come visit. Guess he was right! Who’s next?? πŸ™‚


We had a great time (hopefully Ben did too) gallivanting around the city for most of the weekend; bike ride to the A-Crop (I did not partake in this particular event), dinner in Directors Park, VQ brunch, farmers market, organic beer fest (with about 3,000,000 other people), Voodoo Donut, and of course, the Columbia River Gorge.


We decided to hit the Oneonta Gorge, starting at the Horsetail Falls trail, and then meeting up with trail 400, then the Oneonta Trail which took us up to Triple Falls, then back down to the 400 which took us the rest of the way down. So it’s not really a loop, not really an out-and-back… more of a wishbone shape. πŸ™‚ Unfortunately, although we had the GPS on, it did not get a good track (weak signal maybe). So, distance and elevation are estimates based on guide books we use, and the map is just pulled from Google (and then crudely marked up with Jing). Not at all accurate. But you get the idea.


Oneonta Gorge trail(s)
Columbia River Gorge (Oregon side)
Total hike distance: +4 miles (not including wading around the creek)
Total elevation gain: At least 500 feet, probably more with all the ups and downs on the trial


This is a sad representation.



If you don’t already know, summer just arrived in Portland last week (literally and figuratively). We’ve been dealing with unrelenting clouds and rain for months, but last week, this strange giant glowing orb in the sky made its debut. So what do you get on the first actual nice weekend of the summer, on one of the more popular and easy trails in the Gorge? Trails so crowded you are literally tripping over other people and kids and dogs and Grandmas on the way. Okay… it wasn’t too bad, but much more crowded than we are used to. I kid you not, there was actually one lady wearing a sundress and fancy high-heeled strappy sandals hiking with her family. She didn’t make it as far as we did, but still, it made me feel like a pansy in my cushy hiking shoes and synthetic fabrics. πŸ™‚



Getting our start on the trail


It doesn’t take long for a payoff on this hike, as Ponytail Falls (aka “Upper Horsetail Falls”) is about .3 miles in. Very close.Β  So also, very crowded. I couldn’t get any waterfall-only shots as there were people running around everywhere. Will have to get there earlier next time.



Ponytail Falls (Paul and Ben are across the way)


This guy walked in front of the camera at the last second!! Can we pretend he’s not there?


The rocky cavern under the falls


A short distance later, we came to Middle Oneonta Falls.



Middle Oneonta Falls


Making our way


The sun was beating down, so after what seemed like ages we reached Triple Falls. We’ve been here several times, but I’m always amazed by how cool it is.Β  Unfortunately, direct sunlight is no bueno for taking waterfall shots, so it’s a little washed out.



Triple Falls


When you hike past Triple Falls, there is a bridge that crosses the creek behind the top of the falls (you can see it in the picture). After crossing this bridge, there are several large boulders and downed trees along the water that are perfect lunch (beer) spots. I could spend all day here.



Break time


The little doggies we shared the space with.


Looking downstream at the top of Triple Falls


Looking back upstream at the bridge we crossed over


On the way back down we came across lots of cool wildflowers.



Tiger Lily


Phlox


Red Columbine


Showy Penstemon


After we got back down to the highway and our car, we changed into sandals and spent a little time wading up the Oneonta Creek. I can’t believe we’ve been in the Gorge a gazillion times and never done this. Oneonta Creek runs through the Oneonta Gorge (natch), and near the road is pretty shallow. There are lots of boulders and trees and little rocky beachy areas to hang out in, mini swimming holes for the kiddies and dogs to go swimming in, and beautiful scenery all around. You can go as far or not far as you like.



There is a small stairway down and to the right to drop down to the water


In the creek


You can also wade all the way up the creek and climb over a log jam to a view of the Lower Oneonta Falls. It was still crazy busy there, I only had flimsy flips flops on and Buckley can be a handful around crowds – so we decided to skip the climb over the logs. We will definitely go all the way next time, as the lower falls are supposed to be beautiful.



Approaching the log jam


The boys up on the boulder – that’s about as far as we went


Buckley was loving it!


Looking back downstream


Off to the side we found a little rocky beach area with a pocket deep enough for Buckley to swim. Copious amounts of fetch ensued.



Maybe copious amounts of beer too…


And now, an absurd number of pictures of Buckley. πŸ™‚



He will not let that stick out of his sight


Shake!


Again?


Heheeeee!




Buckley even got to meet another doggie friend who was willing to share his tennis ball.



Buddies!


BRRRGRBLRBLRGLRBLRRGL


A little game of tug for good measure


Looking back up the creek


While a relatively easy hike, it’s loaded with scenery and fun stuff to do and doesn’t take up your whole day (unless you want it to).

To celebrate the long weekend, we are heading out tomorrow morning to Shellrock Lake area for a two-night backpacking trip. Report soon, I promise not to wait until next Friday night to post!

Happy 4th everyone!

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…?