Monday, October 5, 2015

Cape Horn Trail With my Son

I was cleaning out cupboards the other day, and came across a cookbook my son's third grade class made for Mother's Day.  Reading the first page nearly melted my heart.  It read: "This book is dedicated to my mom because she is the best.  She teaches me stuff and takes me on hikes." 

My son's 3rd grade class cookbook

My son Cody has been one of my favorite hiking partners.  He's always loved rambling in the woods.  From very early on, he'd follow his mother on the trail.  At the tender age of 10, I led Cody up Dog Mountain, a very steep, strenuous hike - the first of many trips we'd make to see the spring wildflowers.  Cody always loved identifying the trees and flowers, which led him to major in Biology, with a Botanical Emphasis.

My son and I on Dog Mountain - circa 1995-ish

Due to the demands of seminary and some health issues, Cody and I haven't hiked together for several years.  However, in late August Cody was home on break between his summer assignment and fall seminary classes.  I decided it was high time for us get back on the trail.

Beautiful trail sign

For the day's hike, my path of choice was Cape Horn Trail, on the Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge.  A fairly new route, this hidden gem climbed a towering bluff boasting spectacular clifftop viewpoints, before descending to even better riverside vistas, mossy woods, wildflowers, and a wispy waterfall.

That's one big tree!

Our adventure began with a climb through lush bigleaf maple woods, complete with a few huge grandpa trees.  Cody, back in his element, began pointing out the different plants and trees.  Made me realize how much I've missed hiking with him.  I always learn something!

A few wildflowers still hanging on

Due to our hot summer, the usual flower show was gone, shriveled up in the blazing heat.  But eagle-eye Cody managed to spot a few holdouts - bright orange blooms hiding under some shady ferns (and, yes, he told me what the flowers were, but I've long since forgotten their name).

Lush forest

After a hot trek up a steep, switchback-y trail Cody and I arrived at the first of three breathtaking viewpoints perched on the edge of the bluff's precipitous cliffs.

First overlook

Panoramas stretched eastward to Hamilton Mountain.  The Columbia River, far below, looked like a wide blue ribbon.

Second overlook

A quick romp through the forest and we emerged at the second viewpoint.  This one gave glimpses of Gorge scenery to the west.

Highway perched on the cliff

I got a great view of state Highway 14, perched precariously on the cliffs of Cape Horn, a well-known promontory jutting over the Washington side of the Gorge.  That road must have been quite a feat to build!

More wildflowers!

After soaking in the vantages of viewpoint number two, it was off in the forest in search of the third one.  But it appeared the land managers were trying to close the trail to this last viewpoint, as the trail was covered in woody debris.

Old mossy trees

So Cody and I continued on, following an abandoned lane through pasturelands, before crossing a paved road.  Beyond this road, our trail resumed through a wide grassy plain before diving back into the forest again.  The gnarled, mossy maple tree trunks here were especially interesting.

Nancy Russell overlook

After a short walk through these lovely woods led us to the wonderful Nancy Russell overlook.

Not bad views for a cloudy day

Dedicated in August 2011, this overlook was built to commemorate Nancy Russell, a tireless crusader for preservation of the Columbia River Gorge.  She was instrumental in getting the Gorge designated as a National Scenic Area, preventing this special area from being marred by development.

Gorge panorama

The views here are grand indeed - one can follow the might Columbia, stretching eastward all the way to Beacon Rock.  One of Nancy Russell's favorite places, her family had an ambulance take her here three weeks before she died.

Good place for a lunch break

The lovely circular rock walls made a nice place for sitting and enjoying our lunch.

Highway 14 hiker undercrossing

After filling our bellies, Cody and continued our trek, climbing downhill towards the highway.  We spiraled down for what seemed like forever through thick forest, before finally spotting our crossing.
When this trail was brand-new, hikers had to scurry across the road.

The light at the end of the tunnel

But the conservancy who manages this area had since constructed a nifty tunnel under the highway, that safely ferried hikers to the other side.

Lower overlook was fantastic

I was delighted to discover a brand spanking-new overlook on the river side of the highway.

Mighty blue Columbia

This placed boasted even more great Gorge panoramas.  And these were much closer to the river level.

Out on a steep cliff

Winding through the forest, we became confused by a maze of unofficial scramble trails.  Some led to dead ends, others to overused areas that appeared officials were trying to close.  Cody noticed a path that he suggested we explore.  Tired of wild goose chases, I almost told him to bypass it.  But I'm glad we didn't.

Views of the railroad track below

The trail came out on a narrow point jutting over the river.  Looking down, you could see railroad tracks directly below.  We were on top of a railway tunnel, and once before I'd witnessed a train come roaring out, and chug down the tracks.  A fascinating sight, I was hoping we'd see again. trains today.  Oh well, the incredible views were more than enough.

Crossing a talus slope

Time to get moving again!  Our path switchbacked up a large talus slope, before meandering back into the woods a final time.

The waterfall is just a trickle

The cherry on top of this fabulous hike was crossing a tiny creek with a tall, wispy waterfall dripping above.  Usually a much larger cascade, the hot summer had taken a toll here too.  But afternoon sun illuminated the water droplets into a sparkling white sheen.

Our day's adventure ended with a hot, dull 1.3 mile uphill walk along a narrow country road.  Not a fun way to end a hike, but we put one foot in front of the other, and got it done.

Great day with my son!

What an awesome way to spend time with my son!  Hiking through the woods with Cody brought back many good memories.  Although he's now a grown man, I think I've instilled the love of hiking firmly into him.  Hopefully, Cody will fondly remember these treks with his mom - and I hope he still thinks I'm the best.  :)

Sharing with:  Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Hikin' Around Elk Meadows

Are there really elk in Elk Meadows?  I'm not sure (haven't seen one yet) but I do know this popular area is considered the crown jewel of Mt. Hood's scenic southeast flank.

Fall colors already!

Sunny August Sundays are perfect for exploring this little bit of heaven.  Starting from the trailhead off the local ski area's access road, paths branch out to many destinations.  In the past, I've skirted the edge of Elk Meadows, and continued on to Gnarl Ridge.  But today I decided to pay this lovely mountain clearing a proper visit.

Clark Creek footbridge

Getting an early start, I had the trail to myself.  I was surprised to see crimson huckleberry leaves already sporting fall colors (a wee bit early, but it's been an unusual summer).   A quick half mile later, I was crossing Clark Creek on a sturdy log footbridge.

Smoke filtering in

One creek crossing down, one more to go!  Approaching crossing no. 2, turbulent Newton Creek, I noticed the air was becoming hazy and smelling awfully smoky.  Two large forest fires had been burning, one in Central Oregon, and another in Washington, and it appeared shifting winds had begun blowing smoke towards Mt. Hood.

Still clear to the west of Newton Creek

It was funny - while visibility was fast becoming obscured by smoke towards the east, westward skies were still clear as a bell.

Scary Newton Creek crossing

Traversing Newton Creek is the scary part of this trail.  A fast-running glacial stream, it's wide, turbulent waters always get my heart racing.  With no bridge in place, hikers are left to fend for themselves.  I scanned up and down the banks, and finally decided to scurry across on a group of narrow logs. Although appearing flimsy, the makeshift log bridge held my weight just fine.  In no time I was safely standing on the other side.

Purple wildflowers were everywhere!

Now came the climbing.  For a mile, the trail ascended Newton Creek's steep bank, through 8 long switchbacks.  The saving grace to this grueling slog was a huge swath of purple wildflowers lining the trail.  A welcome distraction!

Sun illuminates beargrass stalks

Gorgeous morning light on dried beargrass stalks also temporarily made me forget my burning legs and lungs.

Mt Hood emerges from the forest

And a few peek-a-boo views of Mt. Hood through the trees weren't too shabby, either.

Pearly everlasting blooming in burn area

Approaching the famous Elk Meadows, I came upon a junction with the Bluegrass Ridge Trail.  My map showed this side path would take hikers to a viewpoint on top of Elk Mountain.  It then followed a ridgeline for a half mile or so before looping back in to Elk Meadows.  A trail I'd never before taken - would I check it out? 

But of course!

Smoky skies on Elk Mountain

My detour climbed through mossy woods before breaking out into an old burn area from the 2008  Gnarl Ridge Fire.  Ghostly silver tree trunks lined the path, occasionally broken by a patch of pretty white pearly everlasting flowers blooming between downed stumps.

More beargrass stalks

It wasn't long before I approached the summit viewpoint atop Elk Mountain.  A former lookout site, all evidence of any tower had long been removed.  I was hoping for some nice panoramas across the Hood River Valley and Eastern Oregon, but the darned smoke had moved in just enough to foil any photographic plans.

Crimson huckleberry leaves

I tried to eat a quick snack, but some aggressive wasps drove me back on the trail.  So I continued my trek up Bluegrass Ridge, taking in the wide-open views (thanks to the Gnarl Ridge Fire) which would have been even better without the smoky skies.  I did pass by a few spots of fall color (everything is early this year!)

Fireweed in the burn area

And fireweed was still blooming at the base of several charred trees.

 Bleak forest

I enjoyed traversing this ridge trail, despite it's wanderings through an old burn area.  The views, occasional fall colors, and late-blooming flowers made for a pleasant journey.

Fireweed is taking over

Finally I came across the short tie trail that would take me off this ridge, and into Elk Meadows.  This path wasted no time descending straight downhill, winding through more deadfall.  But the silver lining was passing through a zone of thick fireweed.  These brilliant pink blooms brightened up an otherwise dull, gray forest.

Fab Hood view on the way to Elk Meadows

A highlight of the day's hike, the large amount of fireweed was absolutely stunning.  And as I continued edging closer to the meadows, Mt. Hood made a few more appearances.

Amazing wildflower display

After losing my trail twice due to downed trees blocking the way, I finally connected with the loop trail that circled Elk Meadows' perimeter. 

Mt Hood from Elk Meadows

I followed a side path that led me into the very heart of Elk Meadows.  Oh, what fabulous views!  Mt. Hood rose above the forested hills, towering over this clearing.  Dry grasses were beginning to put on their golden fall colors.

Elk Meadows shelter

I'd heard there was a wooden shelter somewhere in this area, and after a bit of searching I was able to find it.  A dilapidated, rustic structure, it looked as though it had seen better days.  Unless desperate, not someplace I'd spend the night.  But, the shelter did have some spectacular mountain panoramas framed in it's doorway.

Cairn marks the creek crossing

By this time, it was early afternoon, the sun was hot and high, and the masses were beginning to arrive.  Time to head back. 

Although I didn't see any elk, I did discover a new loop trail to a scenic viewpoint, found a huge patch of brilliant fireweed, and got to traipse through Elk Meadows proper.  This scenic little meadow is a worthy late summer destination.  Two hiking poles up!

Stats:  9 miles round-trip, 1400 feet elevation gain.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Neahkahnie Mountain

One doesn't usually think about climbing mountains when heading towards ocean beaches.  But along the Oregon coast lies many tall headlands, some rising over a thousand feet above the waves.

Dense coastal forest

Neahkahnie Mountain is one of the most well known.  Located on the northern Oregon Coast, just south of Oswald West State Park, it rises 1600 feet above the sea.  Named by the local coastal Indians, Ne ("place of") and Ekahni ("supreme deity") meant this viewpoint was fit for gods.  Reaching the summit is a popular coastal hike.  But - believe it or not - it was one trail I'd yet to visit.

Part of my route

One Friday in early August, I decided to check Neahkahnie Mountain off my list.  However, spending the morning babysitting our injured dog (nothing major, just a cut on his paw) meant a late start.  It was nearly 3:00 pm by the time I reached the trailhead.

My path went through this tree!

There's many ways to reach Neahkahnie's summit.  One can drive halfway up the mountain's south side, and take a 2 mile path.  Or, visitors can start at a trailhead to the north accessed by an auto pull out on Hwy 101.  But I decided to take the long way, starting at Oswald West State Park, and hiking the Oregon Coast Trail nearly two miles before reaching the Hwy 101 trailhead.

A clearing with ocean views

It was a sunny, warm afternoon as I started out from a packed parking lot.  Three school bus loads of kids were crowding the trail to the beach, and I was more than happy to branch off on the Oregon Coast Trail.  This path crossed a cool suspension bridge over a creek, and headed uphill through thick coastal forests.

The "official" trailhead

Although I thought the Hwy 101 trailhead was only 1.5 miles from the state park, this path through the forest seemed to take forever.  I came out into a wide clearing, that provided great views of the coastline and ocean below.  But lack of trees made for a hot trek!

Pretty white flowers line the path

Finally I began to hear traffic.  Trudging up a steep slope, I was happy to arrive at the "official" north trailhead off of US 101.  While waiting to cross the highway, I noticed a young couple on bicycles parking in the auto pull out. 

Nice ocean views

Safely traversing the highway, I now had two miles and 1200 feet of climbing ahead of me. The trail wasted no time rocketing upward, and it didn't take long before I was sweating and gasping for breath.  But fantastic ocean views spread out below were well worth the extra effort.

Blue waters

After crossing a clearing, the trail plunged into dense coastal forest.  I marveled at the huge number of ferns lining the ground, and the enormous trees rising high into the sky.

Many ferns line the forest floor

On some parts of the path, tree roots rose to the surface, creating intricate patterns.  However, they also made for treacherous footing.  My pace slowed as I kept a close eye on where I stepped.

Tree roots make for a treacherous trail

Stopping to capture a few photos, I heard voices, and noticed someone following me.  It turned out to be the biking couple I'd seen back at the highway.  A brief conversation revealed these young folks were from Montreal, and planned to bike the West coast from Anacortes WA to San Francisco.  They'd taken a break in their ride to climb Neahkahnie Mountain.

Foggy forest near the summit

The couple, being much younger and fitter than I, easily loped ahead.  Once again alone on the trail, I continued my climb through the warm, humid woods.  Nearing the top, I was enveloped by a bank of thick fog.  Oh no!  I climb up to high places for the rewarding views.  Was I going to get skunked?


The last half mile seemed to take forever.  I wound around a rocky outcrop, missing the faint summit path, and had to backtrack to find the correct route.  But scrambling up the final pitch, the entire coastline to the south opened up before me.  What an amazing sight!

My reward

The Montreal biking couple were already on top, enjoying a snack.  We again greeted each other and marveled at the views.  After a few minutes, my young friends headed back down, leaving me with the summit all to myself.

Summit selfie

With changing weather forecast for the following day, clouds were already beginning to roll in.  I'd reached the summit in the nick of time.  Not ten minutes later, my wonderful coast panorama began to fade under thick fog.

Battered benchmark

It was so peaceful up there, I didn't want to leave.  But it was past 6:00, and I had a long four miles of descending ahead of me.  With clouds rolling in, and sunset coming earlier, I didn't want to get caught out here in the dark.

Fading daylight

So I packed up my things, and hit the trail.  Although there was no more strenuous climbing involved, the path was steep and littered with rocks and roots.  I cautiously picked my way downhill, gingerly avoiding these treacherous trip hazards.  Progress was much slower than anticipated.


My return trip seemed to take forever.  Finally, Hwy 101 came into view.  But - this was only the halfway point.  I still had to travel the Oregon Coast Trail back to Oswald West State park. And light was quickly beginning to fade from the sky.

Purple thistle

In the open field, I took a wrong turn, and ended up at a lovely overlook perched over the ocean.  If not for the increasing clouds, views would have stretched miles out to sea.  But despite the limited visibility, steep cliffs and pounding waves made for a few great photo ops.  However, with night coming quickly, I couldn't linger very long.

Ocean overlook

I finally reached my car just as the last light was fading from the sky.  I sent a quick text message to my hubby so he wouldn't worry, and wearily climbed into my car for the hour and a half drive home.

But despite the late hour, and long afternoon, I'm glad to have carved out the time to finally climb this great coastal mountain.  (But next time, I'm taking the shorter route!)

Stats:  8.5 miles round-trip, 1500 feet elevation gain

Sharing with:  Through My Lens and Our World Tuesday.