Sunday, January 12, 2020

Red Mountain Lookout and Mushroom Extravaganza

(I'm going to the "way-back machine" and recapping some of my favorite hikes of 2019.)

In mid-September, the stress and excitement of my daughter's wedding over, I was ready for some wilderness therapy.  So I asked my friend Catherine if she'd be willing to join me for an exploratory hike on a "new to me" trail.  One thing I love about Catherine, she's always up for an adventure!

Off to another adventure!

Today's trail of choice was a jaunt on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) into Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness.  After a couple of miles, we'd leave the PCT for a side trail leading to an alpine meadow known as "Indian Racetrack."  From there, the plan was to climb up the side of Red Mountain to see the views and fire lookout tower on top. 

Old PCT Trail marker

It was a humid, unseasonably warm day that found my friend, her daughter, and I at the PCT trailhead on Forest Service Road 60.  Traveling a mere few hundred feet down the trail we met our first PCT through-hiker, a man from Georgia.  Fascinated by his journey we detained the poor guy, peppering him with questions.  The man explained he'd started from the Mexican border in March and was averaging over 30 miles a day, trying to reach Canada before the winter snows hit.  Although I mentioned he was going to be hiking through the incredibly beautiful Indian Heaven wilderness, the man didn't seem interested at all.  So focused on getting miles in, the Georgia guy wasn't paying attention to the spectacular places he was hiking though.

Finally bidding him goodbye, despite hauling a huge backpack, the man took off like a rocket and was quickly gone.

A PCT hiker left this along the trail

Catherine and I had a discussion about why someone would hike all those miles so focused on covering ground that you didn't make time to stop and enjoy the scenery.  We both agreed it kind of defeated the purpose.  But never having never tackled such a huge undertaking, I'm not one to judge.  Maybe after covering so many miles, I'd feel that way too.

A bit further along the trail, we came upon some sticks arranged in a "2200" pattern, which we assumed meant this was mile 2200 of the PCT.

Tiny lake

My hiking buddies and I then passed by a lovely alpine pond, reflecting the surrounding trees so nicely I just had to stop for photographs.

Beginnings of fall color

About that time Catherine, who loves to harvest wild mushrooms and knows quite a bit about the subject, began to notice the forest floor was full of different types of fungi.  The recent unseasonable wet weather had brought them out in great numbers.

Autumn hues light up the forest

Catherine found one rather large tan-colored mushroom, a little bigger than my hand, that she said was good to eat.  Rummaging through her pack she found a plastic grocery bag to hold her find.

Colorful huckleberry leaves

We passed by another tiny pond, really more of a swamp, that was surrounded by the beginnings of autumn color.  Some huckleberry leaves were already turning crimson.  My favorite season, I was thrilled to see the leaves starting their transition.

Catherine shows off her chanterelle stash!

Between Catherine foraging for mushrooms and me taking photos, progress to the Indian Racetrack trail junction was slow.  Passing by one particularly fungi-rich area, Catherine was thrilled to find a patch of chanterelles, which I learned were really good to eat.  These golden, fluted-shaped 'shrooms were awfully pretty too.

Another PCT trail marker

Despite the distractions, my friends and I finally reached the junction of the PCT and Indian Racetrack shortcut Trail.  This was the path would take us to the foot of Red Mountain, our day's destination.

Leaving the PCT for Indian Racetrack

Of course this track was also lined with hundreds of mushrooms. Fungi of every shape and color poked their heads out of the rich forest soil.  Catherine's mushroom bag began to fill.

Catherine finds some large mushrooms

Catherine found a couple of big 'shrooms that looked like little loaves of bread.  Apparently these were also good eating.  (Note to readers - please consult a guide before picking and eating wild mushrooms!  Don't rely on these photos.)

Here's a photo compilation featuring some of the many mushroom varieties we saw dotting the forest floor.  Lots of unusual colors, shapes, and sizes (I liked the speckled ones best!)

Photo collage of the mushrooms we saw

Soon the wide open meadows of Indian Racetrack came into view.  This area was so named for the Native American tribes who gathered here to harvest late summer berries and race horses. 

Broad meadows of Indian Racetrack

After a little searching, we located the trail up Red Mountain at the edge of one meadow and began the steep climb to its top.  Gaining 800 feet in 0.8 of a mile it was a steep trudge.  About halfway up we hit a hillside covered in red volcanic rock (giving Red Mountain it's name).  The final quarter mile followed a rocky road.  This was the longest section - it was a hot, muggy slog.  I thought we'd never see that darn fire tower.

Finally Red Mountain Lookout!

But of course after much toiling and grumbling (mostly by me) the forest opened up and my friends and I glimpsed the gray outbuilding downhill from the fire lookout itself.  A bit more effort to climb the final pitch and we were on top of Red Mountain!

Lookout cab through the trees

Although the day was cloudy, we lucked out when the ceiling lifted just enough for a good look at a barren Mt Adams (the Cascade peaks all look so naked without snow).

Mt Adams view

There was a man sitting on the lookout tower deck when we arrived.  He invited us to come up, but warned it was cold and windy.  Not wanting to disturb him, my friends and I settled into a sheltered area behind some low-growing bushes and enjoyed a late lunch.

Checking out the tower

Once the man left, however, I was the first one up the ladder.  Despite cloudy skies, the views were still spectacular.  I could only imagine how much better it would be on a sunny day.

Fine views from on high

Online research revealed the Red Mountain lookout was constructed in 1913.  In the next several years it underwent a couple of reconstructions.  During World War II the lookout was used as an aircraft warning service station, and was staffed 24 hours a day for 12 months.  An outbuilding was erected below the tower to house the relief staffer.   

Not bad for a cloudy day

The present lookout cab was built in 1959.  In December 2006 a storm blew the roof off the tower and collapsed the cabin walls.  The following summer volunteers from four states spent two weeks restoring the lookout tower and outbuilding.  Red Mountain lookout is maintained to be "service ready" but today is only used in times of emergencies.  It is considered the last remaining active fire lookout in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

Looking towards the south

Cold, windy conditions kept my friends and I from spending much time up on the lookout tower.  Driven back to the shelter of the base, we finished our lunch, rested, and soaked in the views.

Chipmunk entertainment

And much to our delight, a trio of cute chipmunks provided some entertainment as they tried to sneak up and grab our crumbs.

Watching for spilled food

My online research determined there were two return routes for this hike - we could either follow the fire tower's closed gravel road and make a loop, or we could return the way we came.  Since I like loop hikes, the decision was made to follow the road.

Gigantic mushroom!

Although I'm usually not a huge fan of road hiking, the downhill trek was steep, but pleasant.  We passed the largest mushroom of all - and it was sitting right in the middle of the road!  The thing was bigger than my foot.  Other than a few patches of vibrant vine maple starting to exhibit fall finery, the miles passed by quickly and before we knew it we'd arrived back at Forest Service Road 60.  A quick half mile trek brought everyone back to my car.

Vine maple beginning to turn colors

This lovely 6-mile loop had it all - lush forests, PCT through-hikers, fall colors, a cool lookout tower with views, and plentiful mushrooms of all shapes and sizes.  A new trail that was definitely a winner!

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

52 Hike Challenge Recap and New Goals for 2020

I'd intended to write this post on New Year's Day.  But high waves were forecast on the coast, and my neighbor Cheri enticed me to join her at Cape Disappointment where we spent a fun day trying to capture the swells and splashes with our cameras.  Two days later, instead of working on my post, I took a fun winter hike near Mt Hood.  Then I went back to work, and life became busy again.  So now here I am 7 days into January realizing I need to get my 2019 hiking challenge recap finished before more time elapses.

I'm extremely proud of myself for completing the "52 Hike Challenge" in 2019.  Not only did I cover the required 52 hiking trails, I reached my goal early, completing number 52 in mid-October.  Since fall is the best season for hiking (in my opinion) I didn't stop there, and kept tallying my hikes until December 31st.  I finished out the year with a grand total of 65 hikes!  Yeah!

Boundary Trail, Mt St Helens

Some of you following along at home may have periodically checked the "52 Hike Challenge - 2019" page that I created at the year's beginning to document each hike towards this goal.  I had fun recording each hike as it happened, and trying to photograph a creative selfie to post with each one.  At the end of 2019, it was rewarding for me to look back over a years worth of hiking entries and bask in my accomplishment.  Being the geek that I am, in the final hours of December 31st I made an impulsive decision to compile all that data into a spreadsheet to determine total mileage and elevation gain.'s the grand totals for 2019:

Total  hikes completed:  65  (although my page says 64, when putting together the spreadsheet, I realized I'd counted two hike # 8's!) 

Total miles hiked:  461

Total elevation gain:  88,330 vertical feet

Coyote Wall, Columbia River Gorge

More interesting (to me) statistics:

May was the month of the most hikes, with 10 total.  March was the least with a paltry one (I think I was skiing a lot).

54% of my hikes were solo.  The person who hiked with me the most was a tie between my hubby and my friend Young (6 each).

35% of the hikes were on "new to me" trails.  46% of the hikes were out of state, Washington being the most hiked in state after, of course, my home state of Oregon (23 of 65 hikes in Washington).

Other states I hiked in:  Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota

I didn't repeat many trails.  There were only three trails I hiked twice in 2019 - Hamilton Mountain, Hardy Ridge and Kings Mountain. 

So....what were some of my favorite hikes?  

Of course, I already covered the top 12 in my last post, so be prepared for some repeats.  However, there are a few additional categories that I think are worth mentioning:

Longest and most challenging - Hands down Lakes and Whittier Ridge Trails near Mt St Helens.  15 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain!  Not only physically but mentally tough, but I lived to tell the tale (or will in a future post)

Jen and I celebrate surviving Whittier Ridge Trail

Best Fall Colors - I would say it's a tie between the Metolius River hike in October or the Thomas Lake hike in September.  Both were pretty spectacular.

Metolius River

Best Spring Wildflowers - Definitely Memaloose Hills this past April.  A banner year for balsamroot here, the hillsides were absolutely covered with the yellow blooms.

Memaloose Hills

Best Winter Hike - Tilly Jane Ski Trail in January.  As I mentioned in my prior post, the 52 Hike Challenge forced me to hike in all seasons, and that included winter.  And I realized I really liked hiking in snowy conditions.  The ski trek up Tilly Jane trail with my girlfriends was my fave winter hike of 2019.

Tilly Jane Ski Trail

Best Summer Alpine Wildflowers - Skyline Loop, Mt Rainier National Park.  In early August this trail is know for it's fabulous wildflower meadows, but this year's show was the best ever.

Skyline Loop, Mt Rainier National Park

Best Selfie Taken on a Hike - Those of you following my separate hiking page no doubt noticed I tried to include one photo of myself from each hike.  Hiking solo nearly half the time, getting a self-portrait posed a challenge.  I tried various ways of propping the camera on my backpack or a stump, or using a gorilla pod, but found sometimes the easiest way was to simply turn the camera on myself.  This image taken by the Kings Mountain summit sign turned out surprisingly well.  (But boy did I get funny looks from an adjacent group of hikers!)

Kings Mountain selfie

Finally, my favorite hike of 2019:  No surprise here, it was my trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back via the South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails.

Grand Canyon!

In conclusion, I enjoyed completing the "52 Hike Challenge" so much I've decided to do it again for 2020.  However, this time I'm adding a couple of twists.  Since I completed 65 hikes last year, I'm setting the bar at 65 again.  And - seeing I didn't get any backpacking trips in last year, I've decided 5 of these hikes must be overnight backpacking trips.  Also, 25% of these hikes must be on "new to me" trails.  One hike must be a long (15+ miles) dayhike.  One of the hikes must be taken in a state I've never hiked before.  Finally, 25 of next year's hiking miles must be on "new to me" sections of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).

I've added a new page to my blog, accessible via a tab below the header. The page is titled "65 Hike Challenge - 2020" and this is where I intend to record this year's hikes.  I invite my readers to check it out and monitor my progress throughout the year.

Wish me luck for a successful hiking challenge in 2020!  And I'll try to do better and keeping my posts more current (well, maybe only one month behind instead of three........)

(Kudos if you've made it all the way through this very long, detail-oriented, geeky hiking post!)

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 in Photos

What to do for 2019's "year in review?"  Chronically behind in blog postings, it didn't make sense to feature a photo from each month.  For 2018's recap I instead chose 12 favorite photos from the past year.  Maybe I should repeat this theme?

However.....2019 was the year of the hike.  I participated in the "52 hike challenge" and successfully completed 52-plus hikes by calendar's end.  Before this, I'd never really counted my hikes, totaled mileage, or kept track of the trails I traversed.  This challenge was a great way to quantify the time spent out on the trail.  In order to get the required number, I had to force myself outdoors during seasons I didn't usually hike - aka the winter months.  Surprisingly, I discovered winter is a great time to be outdoors (heat and bugs are not a problem).  My hiking challenge culminated in November with the biggest adventure of all - a trek to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up again.  Since I'd focused so much on hiking in 2019 I came to the conclusion "why not feature photos from my 12 favorite hikes?"

So this year, dear readers, I'm pleased to present the top hikes of 2019:

Tilly Jane Ski Trail - Ladies ski day

Tilly Jane Ski Trail, January.  My friends and I planned a "ladies ski trip" on a lovely blue-sky day.  We skied up the Tilly Jane Trail to the A-frame cabin and had a wonderful swoosh back down through the trees in fresh powder snow.  Beautiful scenery and great company made this one of my favorite treks of 2019.

Winter hike on Hamilton Mtn

Hamilton Mountain, February.  A Gorge trail I'd hiked plenty of times, but never in the winter.  Traveling uphill on ice-packed trails was a challenge (thank goodness for microspikes!)  But I loved seeing a familiar trail covered in snow - a totally new perspective.  The scenery was so incredibly beautiful I think an annual winter visit is in order.

Wildflower explosion on Memaloose Hills

Memaloose Hills, April.  Normally I like to hit the trails in early morning to beat the crowds.  However, on this day a list of chores meant hiking had to wait until late afternoon.  I almost said "the heck with it" and stayed home.  But seeing reports of the best wildflower bloom here ever, I couldn't resist.  After fighting rush-hour traffic, my efforts were rewarded with perfect evening light, impressive wildflower-covered slopes, and best of all, no people.  Maybe I'll have to change my hiking habits?

Crazy Horse Volksmarch

Crazy Horse Volksmarch, June.  I timed this year's South Dakota visit to coincide with the annual volksmarch to the top of Crazy Horse Mountain.  Convincing my dad, two brothers and nephew to join me made for good quality time spent with family.  One of my favorite South Dakota trails, this huge sculpture is always an impressive sight.

Beargrass bonanza on Coffin Mtn

Coffin Mountain - July.  After numerous reports of massive beargrass blooms in the Central Oregon Cascades, I had to check it out for myself.  Coffin Mountain was reputed to have the most prolific bloom, so I headed there.  I'd never before seen such a huge concentration of beargrass on Coffin Mountain's slopes.  A-mazing!  Totally worth the nearly 3-hour one-way drive.

A different perspective of St Helens Lake from the Boundary Trail

Boundary Trail, Mt St Helens, July.  Every year I hike the Boundary Trail at Mt St Helens National Volcanic Monument, but always stop at the Coldwater Peak turnoff.  This year I decided to hike the trail further, and was rewarded with some new views of St Helens and Spirit Lake.  A long day, but worth every step.

Skyline Trail, Mt Rainier National Park

Skyline Trail, Mt Rainier National Park, August.  This is hands-down my favorite trail at MRNP.  Not only did my friend Young and I hit peak wildflower bloom, we also had perfect, blue-sky weather to showcase massive Mt Rainier at her finest.  Totally amazing, breathtaking, magnificent, stunning (and many other superlatives....)  You can see why I return every year.

Indian Henrys Hunting Ground, Mt Rainier National Park

Indian Henrys Hunting Ground, Mt Rainier National Park, August.  Although I normally wouldn't include two hikes from the same place in my recap this one was so spectacular I couldn't leave it out.  At the end of a long, hot uphill trail Young and I were rewarded with grand mountain views and fields of colorful wildflowers.  A new favorite place!

Mt Hood from Vista Ridge Trail

Vista Ridge Trail, Mt Hood, August.  Reaching this trail requires a very long drive over bumpy Forest Service roads - the main reason I hadn't hiked here in many years.  But this August I braved the journey.  The splendid wildflower display, majestic mountain scenery, and plentiful wildlife (I saw pikas!) made me realize I need to visit more often.

Red Mountain Lookout

Red Mountain Lookout, September.  Although I've hiked many trails in Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness, this was one place I'd yet to visit.  It was a winner!  Fall colors, plentiful mushrooms, and a cool lookout tower with great views made this hike memorable.

Sunset at Norway Pass, Mt St Helens

Lakes and Whittier Ridge Trails, Mt Margaret Backcountry, Mt St Helens, October.  I've yet to blog about this one - but I will.  This trek was a doozy!  Probably the toughest hike of the year - fifteen miles, 3500 feet elevation gain, hiking the final two miles in darkness, and a super-scary traverse across Whittier Ridge in the snow.  But the amazing fall colors, mountain views, and spectacular sunset at Norway Pass made it all worth it.  A true adventure!

Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon National Park

South Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails, Grand Canyon National Park, November.   The Grand Canyon delivered, and how!  A rare chance to hike to the canyon bottom, a place that only 1% of Grand Canyon visitors go.  This bucket-list hiking trip totally exceeded my expectations.  Amazing weather, beautiful fall colors, extraordinary scenery, quality time with my sister.  A once-in-lifetime experience!  Hands down my favorite hike of 2019.

The happy couple!

And a bonus - the top event of 2019 wasn't a hike, but my daughter's wedding.  A proud mom moment!  (sniff, sniff!)  Despite the rain, it was a wonderful day and beautiful ceremony.  I'm throwing in an extra photo to commemorate the happy occasion.

So, that's a wrap for 2019.  As always, thanks to my readers for clicking in, leaving comments, viewing my photos and reading my stories.  I've compiled some interesting (well to me anyway) stats on my "52 hike challenge" but since this is getting long, it will have to wait for the next post.  At that time, I'll also unveil my 2020 hiking goals.  Something to look forward to!

In the meantime, wishing everyone a happy and prosperous 2020!  (Can you believe it's a new decade already?)

Saturday, December 28, 2019

South Rim Explorations

Hopefully you're not sick of Grand Canyon stories - I have one final set of photos from the day after my sister and I's big hike.  (Then it's back to my normal "three months behind" schedule of blog posts)

Kolb Studio at sunrise

Post-hike, my sis and I were lucky and scored a room in the Bright Angel Lodge, just steps from the Lookout Studio and canyon rim.  Not only were we able to leave our rental car parked the duration of the trip, the rim was right there, totally accessible any time of the day.  Which meant great opportunities to capture the sunrise.  And the next morning, I did just that.

Rock layer close-up

Although the sunrise was sort of a dud that day, it was nice to have the rim trail nearly to ourselves. 

Early morning hikers on the Bright Angel Trail

Peering down the Bright Angel Trail from the rim, I captured a group of early-morning hikers setting off to the canyon bottom.

Looking down on Indian Garden

My sis and I located Indian Garden, surrounded by a grove of golden trees.  Hard to believe just one short day ago we were down there!

Lookout Studio

Although a bit stiff and sore from yesterday's climb out of the canyon, my sis and I knew getting out and walking around would be the best way to loosen sore muscles.  So we strolled along the rim trail towards Mather Point, stopping at every attraction along the way.

Hopi House

My sis and I popped into the shi-shi El Tovar Hotel and gawked at all the finery we couldn't afford.  Then we crossed the street to check out the Hopi House.  Another building designed by Mary Colter, this one was my favorite of her creations.  Modeled after a Hopi pueblo, it housed gift shops specializing in Native American artwork.

Zigzags of Bright Angel Trail

Past the commercial portion of the rim trail, my sis and I thankfully left a large portion of the crowds behind.  Looking back towards the Bright Angel Trail we got a cool view of the sharp zig-zaggy switchbacks traversing the cliffs.  Pointing it out to a nearby man, we proudly told him we'd
 hiked out of the canyon just yesterday (I figured we'd earned those bragging rights!)

Foolish people standing too close

The closer we got to Mather Point, and the large visitor center nearby, the more foolish people we saw standing precariously close to the canyon's edge.  It seemed to be mostly younger people, all wanting to get their Instagram selfie.  My sis and I saw two young women actually duck through a guardrail to get photos of each other perched on the very edge.  Yikes! 

Powell Point

That afternoon I had some unfinished business to attend to.  When I visited the Grand Canyon back in March 2018, I'd wanted to ride the bus all the way out to Hermits Rest, but only got halfway before the sun set.  So my sis and I jumped on a bus and made it all the way out to Hermits Rest. 

Sister moment at Hermits Rest

It was great to finally see Hermits Rest.  My sis and I ran into a young couple we'd seen hiking out of the canyon the day before and they were nice enough to take our photo.  It really was a small world at the park that week - we ran into a few fellow Phantom Ranch hikers that day, including the Oklahoma couple several times. (We saw them so much, my sis said she was afraid they'd think we were stalking them!)

Funny sign

My sis and I had to laugh at the "don't feed the squirrels" signs posted everywhere.  They depicted the squirrels as fierce, biting animals.  Apparently feeding the wildlife must be a huge problem if the park is resorting to scare tactics - they even had "no feeding the animals" warnings on their napkins!  (And for the record, we didn't give food to any critter)

Amazing view from Pima Point

We stopped at every viewpoint along the way to Hermits Rest, and I decided to return to Pima Point for sunset.

More views from Pima Point

It had the most dramatic views and jutting out into the canyon, I could see both east and west horizons.

Waiting for sunset at Pima Point

I set up my tripod and waited for the sun to drop.  As the minutes ticked towards sunset, more and more people gathered around the viewing areas.  I had to be assertive at times to keep my spot.

Late afternoon sun on the canyon

Once the sun began to near the horizon, the canyon's walls lit up in lovely pink hues.

Sky colors are beginning!

It was a beautiful sunset that night.  The sky lit up in lovely shades of pink and orange.

Lovely sunset

Unfortunately, just as the sun was going down, my sister and I were inundated by a large group of young people from another country.  They surged around us, taking over our viewpoint and chattered loudly in their native tongue.  It totally ruined the experience for people like us who wished to view the sunset in peaceful surroundings.

More fantastic sky colors

Once the sun slipped below canyon walls, the young people decided to leave.  My sis and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Then we looked up, and to our amazement, the sky continued to put on a show.  The heavens erupted in color - clouds reflecting bright pink and orange hues of the dying sun.  Oh, it was almost better than the sunset!

Just when we thought sunset was done, the sky erupted in color!

And, just as my sister and I were enjoying this last gasp of daylight, we heard voices babbling excitedly.  Oh no - the kids had returned and were noisier than ever!  They again crowded around us, snapping selfies with their phones.  Ugh!

Despite the interruptions, it was one of the better sunsets I'd witnessed at the Grand Canyon and I was pleased with the images I'd captured.

Sunrise the next morning

The following morning I again, grabbed my camera and made the short walk to the rim to capture sunrise.  This time it delivered - morning clouds continued last night's spectacular colors with more lovely pink and purple hues.  My sis, who'd opted to sleep in, missed the entire show.

First light on the south rim

A final walk along the canyon's rim before leaving, I tried capture as much of the canyon's splendor as I could, knowing it would be some time before I'd return again.

Memorable trip with my sis!

A memorable trip with my sister!  We lucked out with great weather and small crowds.  We spent nearly a week in this awe-inspiring National Park, saw the canyon from top to bottom and back up again, and got some good bonding time to catch up on each other's lives.

Now back home again, it's time to plan next year's sister trip (wink, wink!)

Yosemite National Park?