Saturday, January 22, 2022

Boulder Lake - Bonney Meadows

It's time to recap another "top ten" hike from 2021.  In this post, the spotlight will be on the Boulder Lake - Bonney Meadows Trail, a hike I did with friends Debbie and Barry back in early October.

(If you missed the post naming my top ten favorite hikes for 2021, you can catch it here.)

At the first trail junction

Many years ago, a friend posted photos from a place called Boulder Lake.  The lake was rimmed by tall cliffs, and because it was fall, the cliffs were dotted with beautiful golds, yellows and reds of the trees displaying their best autumn finery.  It looked like such a gorgeous spot, I just knew I had to hike there!  I've been trying to get to Boulder Lake ever since.  Finally, on the one sunny day of an otherwise rainy week, I got my wish.  

Map of our route

Even though I'd just returned from a 3-day trip to Central Oregon, and was leaving for the coast the following day, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to finally check this hike off my list.  So early that morning found me in my good friends Debbie and Barry's car driving over Mt. Hood on the way to the Boulder Lake Trailhead.  It was quite a journey just to reach the trailhead!  After passing over Mt. Hood on highway 26, we turned onto highway 35.  From White River Snopark, we turned off highway 35 onto the first of many Forest Service roads.  I had printed directions from the Oregon Hikers website, and Debbie had slightly different directions from a hiking app (I think it was Alltrails).  Encountering a road closure, we realized my directions were probably outdated.  Good thing we had Debbie's directions!  These led us through a maze of FS roads, each in worse condition than the one before, until we reached the final road that took us right to the trailhead.

Climbing uphill to Little Boulder Lake

Whew!  It had taken well over 2 hours to get here.  After much-needed potty breaks in the bushes (no facilities at this trailhead) my friends and I shouldered our backpacks and headed up the first of many trails we'd follow today.  I included a map of our route (see photo above) to help explain all the twists, turns, and tracks for the day's hike.

Little Boulder Lake

Starting at the Boulder Lake Trailhead, we took a short quarter-mile path, past tiny Spinning Lake and reached the junction of the Boulder Lake and Little Boulder Lake Trail.  Which way to go first?  My friends and I decided to hike the loop clockwise, take the Little Boulder Lake Trail first, and save Boulder Lake for last.  (Little did we realize that this junction was merely a stone's throw away from Boulder Lake itself!)

Lunch break high above the lakes

The Little Boulder Lake trail had us climbing up a steep ridge past huckleberry bushes just beginning their autumn color transformation.  Then we continued slightly downhill before reaching the shore of Little Boulder Lake, rimmed by beautiful golden grasses.  Not far from this lake, my friends and I reached another junction, this with an old logging road.

Fantastic fall colors

We followed this old logging road for nearly a mile as it twisted and climbed through alternating forests and clearcuts.  The open areas had fantastic sweeping views of the valley below.  At a tight bend in the road, Barry noticed a trail heading off into the forest.  It wasn't signed, but with my gps and Barry's phone app (plus my map) we were able to determine that this was the next trail on the loop.

Looking down at Little Boulder Lake

This next trail, the Forest Creek Trail No. 473, took us uphill through a large brushy meadow (which I later learned was a recovering clear cut).  Now well past noon, my friends and I had grumbling tummies, so when I noticed a few stumps in a clearing I suggested we take a lunch break.  

More blazing huckleberry bushes

It turned out to be a great spot to sit and refuel.  Nestled among the huckleberry and manzanita bushes, and some short fir trees, my friends and I enjoyed the forest views.  

Must've been a good beargrass year!

Tummies filled, it was time to get a-movin' once again.  We continued climbing through old clearcuts, full of brilliant red huckleberry bushes and beargrass stalks.  Judging by the sheer number of spent beargrass I deduced it must've been a banner year for the poofy plants.

Some yellow and gold huckleberry leaves

Debbie, Barry, and I passed by one nice viewpoint overlooking Little Boulder Lake, nestled in the valley far below.  Then we ducked back into the woods, passing by an area of vibrant yellow and gold huckleberry leaves.

Sweeping panorama at Echo Point

Located at this trail's highest spot was one final viewpoint, named Echo Point.  Climbing steadily uphill it seemed to take forever to reach.  But once we crested the top, the views from here were definitely worth the slog.  We could see beyond the high ridge on the other side of the lakes, all the way to the plains east of Mt. Hood.  Outstanding!  I was glad we picked a clear-sky day to do this hike.

Lots of trails at Bonney Meadows

From Echo Point, our trail dropped steeply downhill until we reached the next trail junction at Bonney Meadows.  Lots of trails crisscrossed at the meadows, causing both Barry and I to consult our maps and gps tracks to be sure we were headed in the right direction.

Bonney Meadows

Although we could've taken the short 0.2 mile trail directly to the Boulder Lake Trail, my friends and I agreed to take the longer loop and explore large, grassy Bonney Meadows.  The meadows, golden with autumn colors, were quite lovely.  I also noticed the very tip of Mt. Hood poking above the trees on the meadow's far side.

The tip of Mt Hood was visible from the meadows

We wandered through the meadows for a pleasant half mile until the trail intersected with another road.  This miserable, rocky Forest Service road was the access to Bonney Meadows Campground and Bonney Butte.  As we climbed up this road, dodging potholes and large rocks, I couldn't believe people actually drove vehicles up here.  But as we cut through the campground itself, I noticed a Subaru parked at one of the campsites.  A braver (or crazier) person than me!

At the end of a terrible road was Bonney Meadows campground

Bonney Meadows Campground looked like a nice place to pitch a tent.  Too bad vehicular access was via such a terrible road.  On the campground's far side was our final junction with the Boulder Lake Trail.  Only 1.6 miles to Boulder Lake!

Crossing a huge talus slope

What goes up must come down.  After gaining all that elevation climbing up the ridge, the Boulder Lake Trail dived steeply downhill.  After a long switchback, my friends and I crossed several huge talus slopes.  The slopes were rimmed with more brilliantly-colored huckleberry bushes, their bright colors popping against the gray rocks.

More huckleberry loveliness

Traversing one of the talus slopes, my friends and I heard the distinctive "meep-meep" of a pika.  These tiny rodent-like creatures live in rocky slopes and are difficult to see.  Luckily I spotted a pika sitting on an outcropping rock.  Sadly I didn't have a zoom lens, so the little guy looks like a speck in all my photos.  But known for being shy animals, it's always a thrill when you can actually see one.

The underbrush was quite colorful

Past the talus slopes, our trail dived back into the forest.  This forest was the most colorful of all, its floor covered in huckleberry bushes of all hues.  I would've lingered longer taking photographs, except for the fact that it was late afternoon, the light was fading, and we still had a lake to reach.

Boulder Lake - finally!

The final half mile to Boulder Lake seemed to take forever.  The forest went on and on.  By now we all were feeling tired.  Where was this darned lake?

The cliffs surrounding the lake were lit up in fall colors

And then through the trees, I spotted water.  Our trail was still high above the lake itself, but after following it for a short distance, I decided to trek cross-country down the slope.  I was anxious to finally see this lake - someplace that had been on my list for a mighty long time.

It was quite beautiful, despite the late afternoon light

I arrived on the shore of Boulder Lake and gasped.  The far side of the lake was rimmed by tall cliffs.  Colorful bushes spread across the cliffs, displaying lovely shades of yellow and orange.  A grove of bright yellow trees lined the opposite lakeshore.  The trees reflected in the lake's still waters.  Oh my, it was as beautiful as I'd hoped!

Colorful reflections

The sun had already slipped behind the tall cliffs, and this fading afternoon light wasn't the best for photographs.  But I didn't care.  I shot image after image of this wonderful scene anyway.  I'd wanted to see this place for so many years, and now finally here I was.  It had been totally worth the long drive and hike to reach this special place.  

After finally tearing myself away and heading down the last of the trail, we arrived back at the Boulder Lake - Little Boulder Lake trail junction where we'd started our day.  And I realized if we had just turned right instead of left, the lake was maybe a dozen steps beyond this junction.  We'd hiked the entire loop first and saved the best for last.

Yours truly, enjoying the beauty

Returning to the car, it was now time to go home, backtracking through all the crummy Forest Service roads to the highway.  However, the day had one final surprise in store for us.  Heading over Mt. Hood the sun sank into a spectacular sunset, colors lingering in the sky for well over a half hour.  A good way to end what had been a wonderful day exploring a fantastic new trail.  

Monday, January 17, 2022

New Year's Day Hike to Dry Creek Falls

I'll write about the final two "top ten" hikes of 2021 in upcoming posts, but first wanted to share this wonderful spur-of-the-moment hike my hubby and I took on New Year's Day.

Snowy trail through burned forest

Although 2022 dawned to chilly temperatures, the sky was clear.  A winter day without rain shouldn't be wasted, so I proposed to my hubby that we take a hike somewhere.  The Columbia River Gorge is always a good place to visit, and I suggested we check out Dry Creek Falls.  A relatively short hike and drive to the trailhead, it fit the bill since we'd had a late start to our morning.

Snow-covered treetops

Over the holidays, the Gorge had received a large amount of snow.  Not only snow, the mercury had plummeted the previous few days, leaving many wet areas with a coating of ice.  I was secretly hoping we'd find Dry Creek Falls at least partially frozen.  

If I was to get my wish, weather was sure cooperating!  It was a bone-chilling 18 degrees when we arrived at the trailhead.  I bundled up in my warmest coat, hat and gloves before starting out on the trail.

PCT this way!

The trail to Dry Creek Falls starts in the town of Cascade Locks and follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for two miles before intersecting with an old roadbed that directs hikers to the waterfall.  The forest along this section of the PCT was severely burned in a 2017 wildfire, and remnants of this were evident from the number of trees with charred bases.

Downy woodpecker perched on a burned tree

The trail began with a steep climb and this uphill trek warmed hubby and I as we slogged along.  Passing one huge trailside tree blackened by the fire, we noticed a woodpecker hopping around the charred bark, digging for food.  Although I didn't have a zoom lens with me I made do with my 24-105 mm lens and got a couple images of this beautiful bird.  We stood and watched the woodpecker for a good 10 minutes before he got tired of us staring at him and flew away.

Snow made the burned forest look good

It was cold enough that you didn't want to stand still for long, and after watching the woodpecker, it was time to get moving!  Hubby and I sauntered through the beautiful, white-covered woods.  It's amazing how a coating of snow can make even a black, burned-out forest look good.

Our trail wound through the forest

Although the snow on the trail had been pounded into ice, we didn't have much trouble walking, probably because the grade was mostly uphill.  There were, however, a few slippery downhill sections where I was tempted to don my microspikes.  But hubby and I made it to the old road intersection without incident.

PCT bridge over Dry Creek

At the first trail junction, the PCT crosses Dry Creek via an elaborate wooden bridge.  Even though I've hiked this trail many times, it was the first time I'd seen this bridge covered in snow.

Icy Dry Creek

Our plans weren't to cross this bridge today.  The waterfall we sought was a quarter mile up the old road that crossed the PCT.  However, I couldn't resist making a detour to photograph the bridge and ice-choked Dry Creek running underneath it.

Looking upstream from the bridge

Images captured, it was then time for the short trudge up the road to reach our day's destination.  Snow-covered Dry Creek flowed beside our trail, looking absolutely magical with it's white dusting.

Our first look at Dry Creek Falls

I could hear the falls well before I glimpsed them.  A huge wall of basalt cliffs rose from the forest, and at a notch in the rock, Dry Creek poured through.  The cliffs surrounding the falls were cloaked in fantastic ice sculptures.  Dry Creek Falls itself was only partially frozen, fast-moving water preventing it from totally icing up.

Lots of ice on the canyon walls!

Oh, the entire area was even more lovely than I imagined!  I was psyched to find so much ice surrounding the falls.

Close up view of the cool ice formations

Out came the camera, and I immediately got to work capturing all this icy beauty.

Wide-angle look at the icy cliffs

Hoping to get some tighter shots, I edged as close to the gushing cascade as I could.  However, the waterfall's spray instantly froze on my camera lens (not to mention my glasses) forcing a hasty retreat.  I'd have to settle for more panoramic views.

Our "we were here" photo

Hubby and I were very lucky to have Dry Creek Falls all to ourselves nearly the entire half hour we spent at its base.  But the moving water and lack of sunshine made the temperature even colder in the waterfall's canyon and we were both getting chilled.  Time to get moving back on the trail.

Heading back through the snowy forest

Heading back on the PCT, it appeared the rest of the world had finally woke up, and we encountered group after group of hikers.  The temps had risen enough to make the icy trail slippery, and after a short stretch both hubby and I ended up donning our microspikes.  Seeing so many hikers without any traction on their feet (and some merely wearing tennis shoes!) made us fearful of accidents. We hoped none of them would end up slipping and falling.

Huge rock along the trail

It's interesting how the same trail can look different coming from the opposite direction.  I swear I didn't see this large boulder above the trail when we were heading towards the falls.  But I certainly noticed it on our return trip.  This huge rock looked out of place in the forest, and we both wondered how it got there.

Afternoon sun starting to peek through

After enduring cloudy skies most of our hike, the sun finally peeked through the trees in the final mile.  The light was so nice on the forest, I made several attempts to capture its glory.  But I find it never looks as good in the photographs as it did in real life.  Oh well, I'll keep on trying....


The best way to spend New Year's Day, I was glad to get outside and enjoy the dry weather, snow and icy waterfall.  Here's to the first of many great hikes in 2022!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Ape Canyon in November

It occurred to me that in the previous post I'd highlighted my Top Ten Hikes of 2021, but neglected to write a blog post about three of the top ten.  I felt bad about shortchanging these three wonderful treks - a hike that's earned a "top ten" billing deserves to have its own post.  To better explain the reason these specific hikes deserved their high rating, I resolved to turn back time and prepare narratives for each of the missing adventures.

This post highlights the first of the three "neglected" top ten hikes:

First view of the MSH

Back in November on one of the Facebook hiking groups I follow, someone had posted a trip report from the Ape Canyon Trail.  The article included several gorgeous photos of the snow-covered Mt. St. Helens and a couple up-close pics of mountain goats.  Ape Canyon was a trail I'd only ever hiked in midsummer for the wildflowers.  I didn't even know the road to the trailhead was still open (it closes during winter months).  But the thought of seeing MSH decked out in snow (and mountain goats too!) intrigued me enough to start the planning wheels in motion.  I picked a sunny day, and invited my friend Catherine to join me.

Sunshine on the trail

On the appointed day, I woke up to an extremely cold, frosty morning.  Worried about icy roads to the trailhead, I almost backed out.  If I'd been hiking solo I probably would've rolled over and went back to sleep.  But knowing I'd made a commitment to a friend got me out of bed and on the road.  After witnessing an excellent sunrise I was glad I hadn't backed out.  Nearing the trailhead and seeing Mt. St. Helens wearing a fresh coat of snow, gleaming white against blue skies, made me doubly glad to have made the effort.

Higher up we had to navigate a bit of snow

We emerged from the car to chilly temps, prompting both of us to don jackets, knit hats, and gloves.  Well - until I discovered I had two left hand gloves and no right hand ones!  (Memo to self - from now on always throw a second pair of gloves in the backpack!)  I improvised by pulling my shirt sleeve over the bare right hand.  Luckily, once we got moving our bodies warmed up quickly, and I didn't need gloves (glove) for long.

The grand viewpoint at mile 4-ish

I have a love-hate relationship with the Ape Canyon Trail.  Located on the mountain's south side, it traverses the edge of a huge lahar, created by a mudflow.  You have to plod nearly four uphill miles through a kinda boring forest, with only a couple of token views, before reaching the good stuff.  But once you hit the junction with Loowit Trail, the scenery is totally worth the slog!  There are killer views of Mt. St. Helens, so close you can see its canyons and glaciers in detail.  The wide-open Plains of Abraham start at the Loowit junction.  In the summer this area is covered in wildflowers - one of my favorite places to see colorful flora.  

However, the other drawback, Ape Canyon trail is a favorite of mountain bikers.  And they share the trail with hikers.  Although all the bikers I've ever encountered here have been nothing but polite, I'm always uneasy hiking on a trail that requires me to keep a sharp lookout for bikes barreling downhill.

Catherine says "hi"

Although Ape Canyon is a wildly popular during the summer months, today we were only the fourth car at the trailhead.  Catherine and I saw a grand total of one other hiking party on the way up.  It was nice having the place to ourselves, especially not having to worry about encountering mountain bikers.

The mountain is front and center as we continue to climb

After a half mile trek through second-growth woods, we took a short side path and were treated to a nice view of Mt St Helens from a cliff's edge.  The mountain sat prominently at the head of a mile-wide mudflow.  Ape Canyon hugs the edge of the Muddy River's vast lahar, a flow of mud, rock and ash created from the 1980 eruption.  Ape Canyon itself escaped damage from the blast, and further uphill the trail winds through a stand of huge old-growth trees, miraculously preserved.

Mt Adams and the beginning of Ape Canyon

Although our trail began clear of snow, we began to encounter it on the trail about halfway up.  Luckily the snow wasn't icy and was soft enough to provide traction.  It also wasn't very deep, so navigating through was a piece of cake.  As a matter of fact, it was kind of fun to walk on the snowy trail.  The first snow I'd seen this season!

The ridge where Catherine spotted the mountain goats

As we climbed up Ape Canyon, I took my usual position in the rear so I could take photos.  You'll notice there's lots of images of Catherine's back as she's marching uphill.  I tell my friends that when hiking with me, they get included in lots of photographs, whether they like it or not! :)

The snowy mountain against blue skies was stunning!

About 2/3 of the way up Ape Canyon Trail the forest opened up to stunning viewpoint of Mt. St. Helens.  Naturally, many photos were taken here including a few with Catherine in them (I told you my friends get in lots of pictures!)

Junction with the Loowit Trail.

From that point on, we began to regularly see glimpses of MSH and also Mt. Adams to the southeast.  The snow was now pretty much continuous, but navigating the snowy trail just added to the fun.  We climbed up a narrow portion of the trail where one side dropped off steeply into a deep canyon.  A narrow chasm rose up from the bottom.  This gap defined Ape Canyon's beginning.

This calls for some photo documentation!

From past trips, I knew the junction with the "round-the-mountain" Loowit trail wasn't far.  Although it was mighty tempting to continue on the Loowit for a ways further, we'd already decided the junction would be our day's destination.  It was a 5-mile trek to this point, so any additional distance would add to the day's total.  I really wasn't in shape to hike more than 10 miles yet, and even 10 miles was stretching it.  So when Catherine and I finally reached the Loowit Trail sign, we took the required photos for documentation, and then found a clear patch of rocks to sit and have lunch.

Eagle-eyed Catherine spotted two mountain goats on an adjacent ridge

While we were enjoying our sandwiches, eagle-eyed Catherine spotted a couple of white specks moving on a nearby ridge.  Mountain goats!  They were just barely visible to the naked eye.  Trying to keep my pack weight down, I'd left my big zoom lens at home.  Now I was wishing I'd lugged it up here.  Although all I had was my 24-105 mm lens, I focused in on the white specks, and clicked the shutter anyway.  After lots of zooming and cropping in my photo editing software, I managed to get a couple images where you can see that those white dots are really goats.

View towards the south, Mt Hood is visible on the horizon

Catherine loves to explore, so while I was content to sit in the sunshine and rest, she climbed up a nearby small knoll to see what was there.  She reported that the scenery was really great, enough that I was inspired to get off my duff and check it our for myself.

Great Mt Adams view

The views extended southward across the great lahar.  The forested ridge of Ape Canyon stood out to the east, and Mt. Hood was visible on the horizon.  A short distance further, I came upon a picture-perfect view of Mt. Adams, framed between two fir trees.  Yes, it had been worth the short uphill climb to take in these views!

One final mountain view before heading back

Although the day had started out near freezing, by noon the sun had warmed temperatures enough that Catherine and I shed jackets down to our base layers.  It was so nice to sit in the sunshine, warm our limbs, and turn our faces towards the sun's glow.  Our lunch spot had a great vantage of Mt. St. Helens, her white slopes looking fabulous against blue skies.  It was so wonderful I didn't ever want to leave.

A grove of huge old growth trees that somehow escaped the blast

But of course, we couldn't stay all day - there was still five downhill miles yet to cover and a two-hour drive back home.  So after a most excellent lunch break Catherine and I reluctantly tore ourselves away from this high viewpoint and began our journey back down Ape Canyon.

Evening light on MSH

The hike down was uneventful.  Nearing the trailhead, we made one final stop at the last viewpoint to say our goodbyes to MSH.  Good night, old girl!  

Amazing how visiting a familiar trail in a different season gives one an entirely new perspective.