Monday, November 12, 2018

A Trip to Jefferson Park

In the shadow of Oregon's second-highest mountain lies a lovely alpine meadow full of tiny lakes and numerous wildflowers.  Jefferson Park, as the area is known, is a popular late summer destination for backpackers.  Although I'd dayhiked here once, an overnight trip was high on my bucket list.  Then a sunny, smoke-free weather window opened up the last weekend of August.  I made a spur of the moment decision to grab my gear and go.

First Mt Jefferson sighting

Bisected by the Pacific Crest Trail, access can be gained from several trailheads.  However, last summer's Whitewater fire came perilously close to this scenic paradise, and although it was luckily spared, the most common trail access was not.  With the Whitewater Trail closed, I researched my other options.  Number one - I could follow the PCT south from Breitenbush Lake over Jefferson Park Ridge, but reaching this trailhead involved a long drive over a truly terrible road.  Number two, I could access via the Woodpecker Trail, but that involved a perilous creek crossing.  Not wanting to sacrifice my car or my body, I instead opted for Number three - using the South Breitenbush Trail (not be confused with Breitenbush Lake) to hike in from the west.  Although road access to this trailhead was good, I faced a grueling 6 mile, 3000 foot climb.  Usually a dayhiker, I'd never carried a loaded overnight backpack this far.  Would I be up to the task?

Paintbrush along a tiny stream

Commitments that Friday morning meant an early afternoon arrival to the trailhead.  Shouldering my monster backpack (did I really pack that much stuff?) in the midday heat, I began to have my doubts.  Could I make it all the way to Jefferson Park?  Was I fit enough?  Apprehensions swirling in my head provided such a distraction that I walked right by the trailhead's wilderness permit box.  Luckily, I didn't get very far before memory kicked in and I doubled back to grab a permit.  (I'd be thankful later that I did!)

Lots of gentians!

The South Breitenbush Trail started out in lovely, shaded woods, and I enjoyed the first mile on a wide, well-graded path.  Then the track became steep and rocky.  But I took it easy, making frequent stops for water and snacks.  Slow and steady I reasoned, would get me to my destination.

Climbing through nondescript forest, this trail wasn't super-scenic.  It did follow a babbling brook, and about four miles in offered a few sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.  However I think lack of eye candy actually helped my progress.  I set my mind in climbing mode and kept powering upward.  Around mile 5, I passed a group of backpackers.  Three couples were resting beside the trail with packs off.  Both the men and women remarked how difficult the hike had been - much tougher than they'd realized.  As I strode by, still feeling strong, my ego swelled.

My sweet campsite at Russell Lake

However, by the next mile, I was ready to be done.  The terrain had flattened out into alpine tundra, so I knew I was getting close.  The scenery had become quite lovely - Mt Jefferson began to rise above the forest, and a few straggler wildflowers bloomed nearby.  But I was hot, tired, and my shoulders ached from carrying a heavy load.  Wandering through the meadows, I kept looking for the PCT junction.  My destination - Russell Lake - wasn't far from there.

Fantastic reflections at the lake's east end

Although several of the small lakes in Jefferson Park had designated campsites, I'd specifically picked Russell Lake.  Some lovely online photos of Mt Jefferson reflecting in this lake's waters had inspired me to come here for some images of my own.  There was only four campsites at Russell Lake, so I hoped to arrive in time to score one.  I really didn't want to walk any further.

Finally about 5:00, I came upon the PCT junction.  Yahoo!  A short half mile later Russell Lake's lovely blue waters came into view.  A large group was already set up at the campsite nearest to the trail and the second site was also taken.  After inquiring from the people at campsite number three, I was directed to the far end of the lake.  Lo and behold, site four was still available!  I'd made it!  My gps read 7.2 total miles, a new backpacking record.

Mt Jefferson reflections were nearly perfect!

Wearily, I dropped my pack and quickly set up camp.  After getting my tent up and gear unpacked, it was time to explore.  Grabbing my camera I started following a faint user trail around the lake.  As I walked, Mt Jefferson began to rise above the treeline, and by the time I'd reached the opposite shore towered above the lake.  And best of all - it was reflecting perfectly in Russell Lake's waters!  This was the image I'd come to capture.  Late afternoon sun was illuminating the mountain, lake, and surrounding shoreline in vivid hues.  Conditions couldn't have been more perfect.  (The photo above was barely edited)

Evening alpenglow

After prowling the shoreline and taking a zillion photos, a grumbling stomach sent me back to my campsite for dinner.  A fallen log made the perfect chair and I enjoyed my meal with a stellar view of the lake.  As I was finishing up a ranger stopped by, and after a bit of small talk, asked me for my wilderness permit.  Whew - good thing I'd doubled back to get one!  (Although in my haste to get back on the trail, I'd forgotten to sign my copy, which gained me a lecture)

The best reflections were at sunset

After the ranger finally left, I relaxed at camp.  Then I noticed the light beginning to fade.  Uh oh, I didn't want to miss the sunset!  Rustling up my camera gear once again, I quickly trekked back to the opposite shoreline.

Alpenglow on Mt Jefferson

The sunset was impressive.  Fading light illuminated Mt Jefferson in lovely hues of pink.  The lake's reflection was just as amazing as earlier (if not more).  Trying to keep my pack weight down, I'd opted to bring a monopod over a full sized tripod, and it stabilized my camera perfectly.  I stayed in place until the last bit of alpenglow disappeared from the mountain's summit.  I returned to my campsite by the light of a full moon.

Morning views from camp

Although I'm usually a terrible sleeper when camping, the day's exertions wore me out enough that I crashed early.  Except for a 1 am potty break, I snoozed through the night.  I was so tired, I ended up sleeping late and missing sunrise.  Crawling out of my tent, Mt Jefferson peeped through the trees, seeming to wish me a good morning.

Fall colors beginning to show

It was a chilly morning.  Clear skies quickly deteriorated.  Heavy clouds moved in and the wind kicked up.  Catching the weather report the day before, I'd heard rain was predicted by evening.  Although I'd considered spending two nights, the thought of packing up a wet tent was convincing enough that I decided to head back that afternoon.

Scenic meadow

But not before exploring more of this beautiful bit of wilderness!  After breakfast, I wandered the meadows near Russell Lake.  The huckleberry bushes and grasses were just beginning their fall color transition.

Meadow full of gentians

I took the PCT south a half mile to nearby Scout Lake.  Although the summer wildflower show was nearly over, the late-season purple-blue gentians were in peak bloom.  I passed by one meadow chock-full of their lovely flowers.

Scout Lake

Scout Lake, the most popular camping destination in Jefferson Park, had nearly all of it's dozen designated campsites claimed.  Following the lake's west shoreline, I gazed at the picture perfect views of Mt Jefferson (no wonder everyone wanted to camp here!).  Then I ventured over to neighboring Bays Lake.  Although the mountain views weren't as nice, this lake with it's numerous coves guaranteed more solitude.  On my way back to camp, I ran into the backpacking couples I'd met on the trail yesterday.  The group reported they'd survived the hike in - barely.

More lovely gentians

Well, it was time to see if I'd survive the hike out.  Packing up my camp, strong winds whipped my tent around, making folding and stashing difficult.  And for some reason, all my stuff didn't quite fit back into my backpack like before.  (How do thru-hikers do it?  I'm such a backpacking wimp!)

My muscles protested as I hefted my (heavier?) pack onto shoulders still sore from yesterday.  But there was only one way to get back to my car.  The trail was waiting, ready or not!

Bays Lake

The only thing worse than climbing 3000 feet is descending that same amount.  The rough, rocky trail which wasn't as bad going up, was much worse (for me anyway) coming back down.  The heavy weight on my back altered my center of gravity, so I had to be careful not to let momentum pull me down quicker than I wanted to go.  A fall on this rocky trail would most certainly cause injury.  My quads became tired after continually acting as brakes for my body.  And of course, I was weary from the previous day's hike in.

Late summer blooms

It was a long, tough slog but I made it back to my car in one piece.  After gratefully slipping off my monster pack, I congratulated myself on making it up and back down the longest, hardest trail I'd backpacked so far.  (Yes, some of you more experienced backpackers may scoff at me, but I was proud of myself!)  Not only had I gained confidence to try another trip, I had a camera full of lovely mountain photographs for my effort.  Russell Lake's magnificent sunset was worth every bit of toil.

(And I'm already plotting future backpacking adventures for next year......)

Friday, November 9, 2018

Tam McArthur Rim

Having family members living in Central Oregon means I'll always have an excuse to travel to this scenic area of my state.  Of course, it's awesome scenery and hiking trails are reason enough!  One mid-August weekend I convinced my hubby to join me for a hiking, family-visiting, beer drinking extravaganza.

Tam McArthur Rim above Three Creek Lake

Saturday morning, my brother joined the hubby and I for a jaunt up Tam McArthur Rim.  A scenic tableland surrounded by sheer cliffs, this trail had been on my hiking wish list for some time.  After traveling down a long, dusty gravel road south of the touristy town of Sisters, we arrived at lovely Three Creek Lake, the start of our day's journey.  Before hitting the trail, I wandered the lakeshore, snapping a few images of our day's destination reflected in it's calm waters.

Three Creek Lake surrounded by Cascade peaks

From the parking area, the men and I ascended rapidly uphill.  In no time at all, we found ourselves at the first overlook, a wonderful view of Three Creek Lake surrounded by numerous Cascade Peaks (from right to left, Mts Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Washington, and the Three Sisters).

Wilderness sign photo op!

And of course I couldn't pass the wilderness boundary sign without getting a goofy pic with my brother!

Better views the higher we climb

The higher we climbed, the better the views.  Central Oregon's foothills and mountainous core spread out below.  I even got a glimpse of Broken Top Mountain through the trees.

Broken Top through the trees

My hubby and I had a leisurely start to our day, so it was mid-morning by the time we hit the trail.  And it being August meant temps were already climbing into the 90s by then.  I enjoyed the first mile of the trail as it wound through shady forest.  But after that, the forest gave way to an open, sandy plateau.

The forest is clearing

Boy was it hot!  The sun's rays seemed to reflect off of the light-colored ground.  The trail climbed steeply up a slope of loose sand.  It was a tough climb, sliding down 1 step for every two uphill.

Ready to climb a steep hill

But finally I caught up to my hubby and brother, taking a quick breather in the shade of a lone bush.

Smoke is starting to creep in

Onward we pushed, following the edge of a steep cliff.  Numerous forest fires had been burning nearby, and my brother said today was the first clear day he'd seen in several weeks.  Lucky for us, we'd picked this day for our hike as the marvelous views were the centerpiece of this trail.

Admiring the view

However, as we reached a rocky outcrop just below our destination, looking eastward we could see the smoke beginning to creep back towards us.

Time to move on!

Time to hustle and get to the rim, before that smoke obscured all the views!

In case you wondered where the trail ended...

Another short climb brought me to the top of a wide plateau.  Although it appeared a worn boot path extended further westward along the rim, an "end of trail" sign planted in the dirt seemed to warn hikers not to continue.

Taking in views from the plateau

That was okay with hubby and I.  It was blazing hot by now, and we were ready for a little break.

Little Three Creek Lake far below

My hubby, brother and I wandered across the plateau.  Bounded on three sides by steep cliffs, views were outstanding.  I spotted Little Three Creek Lake surrounded by gray, burned trees, remnants of the previous year's devastating forest fire.

The Three Sisters front and center

Triple peaks of the Three Sisters filled the western skyline.

Heading back down

After drinking most of our water supply, and enjoying a quick snack, we agreed it was time to head back to Bend for some post-hike refreshment at one of their excellent brewpubs.

Mt Bachelor on the skyline

Even though it was blazing hot, at least the way was all downhill.  In no time at all we were back at the hubby's truck.  A short trek, we'd packed lots of scenery into a 4-mile roundtrip with 1200 feet of elevation gain.

Visiting Jack, my grandpuppy

Not only does my brother live in Central Oregon, my daughter has settled there too.  After some liquid post-hike libations, my hubby and I went to check out her new house - and her new puppy.

Fluffy cuteness

My daughter and her fiancee adopted a golden retriever puppy named Jack.  At the time, he was a four-month-old bundle of puppy energy.  The joke is he's my "grandpuppy."

Tired pup

As with grandchildren, the good thing about grandpuppies is I can have fun with them, but don't have to deal with the hard stuff - the potty training, chewing, or discipline.  I had a good time roughhousing around with Jack, until he laid down on the floor for a puppy nap.

Enjoying the Brewfest

Besides hiking, the main reason for traveling to Central Oregon that weekend was to take part in the Bend Brewfest.  I love me a good dark microbrew and with most of the surrounding breweries represented, there was plenty to choose from!  Forgive the crappy cell phone photo, but as you can see, the hubby and I were in beer lover's paradise.

Great hiking, family, cute grandpuppy, and beer - what's not to like about Central Oregon?

Monday, November 5, 2018

Summer Beauty at the Local Ski Area

Let's face it - all ski areas look lovely when coated in winter white.  But once the snow melts, I'd bet most of them revert to barren, rocky wastelands. 

Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area is different.  In midsummer, it's slopes transform into green wonderlands carpeted with colorful wildflowers.  A trip through Meadows has become one of my "don't miss" summer hiking destinations. 

Umbrella Falls

Over the years, I've developed a 10-mile loop that highlights the very best this scenic corner of Mt Hood has to offer.  Starting at the Elk Meadows trailhead, my route passes by Umbrella Falls before climbing to a junction with the Timberline Trail at Mt Hood Meadows' west end.  Following the Timberline Trail, my route then wanders under chairlifts and through the middle of Meadows' ski runs before descending into Heather Canyon.  After a crossing of Clark Creek, it climbs to meet up with the Newton Creek Trail and contours this ridgeline downhill until connecting with the Elk Meadows trail.  From there a quick mile to the parking area closes the loop.

Backlit fireweed

One sunny, warm day last August I convinced my hiking buddy Catherine to accompany me on my yearly trek through Meadows.  She in turn brought her husband Larry, and our gleesome threesome happily began our journey at the Umbrella Falls trailhead.

Huge field of golden blooms

It was a quick 2 mile climb through thick pine and fir woods to the lovely multi-tiered Umbrella Falls.  Bright pink fireweed bloomed nearby, nicely framing the waterfall.  Despite the sunny skies creating uneven light, I took advantage of a passing cloud to capture one good image of this cascade.

Aster patch

Then we wandered through a stunning alpine meadow full of golden yellow flowers (that I think were western goldentop) and purple asters.

Posing by the Timberline Trail sign

Crossing Mt Hood Meadows' main entrance road, Catherine, Larry and I climbed steeply through the woods adjacent to Meadows' bunny slopes.  One hot, dusty mile later we came upon a sign announcing the junction with Mt Hood's round-the-mountain Timberline Trail.  Perfect spot for a photo of my companions.

Tousled Western Pasqueflowers (aka"Hippy on a stick")

Let the floral goodness begin!  It wasn't long before we happened upon the first flowering meadow.  This one was full of shaggy-headed Western Pasqueflowers.  (One of my favorite midsummer blooms I jokingly refer to as "Hippy on a Stick.")

The hippies were out!

Intermittent clouds hid Mt Hood, but I was able to take advantage of a quick hole to capture my favorite mountain peeking out over the flower fields.

Huge wildflower meadow covers a ski run

After crossing a tiny stream and ducking under one chairlift, my friend and I came upon the wide-open slopes of the South Canyon run.  And oh were the flowers thick here!

Wildflowers below the chairlift

Millions of purple asters, pink fireweed, with a few orange paintbrush and more yellow "whatever they are" flowers covered the entire hillside. 

Flower garden below the Cascade lift

Needless to say, forward motion ground to a halt.

Huge field of fireweed

We ran into quite a few other people here, mostly folks visiting Mt Hood Meadows who were accessing these flower fields via chairlift.  (In my hiker mind, that's kind of've got to earn your views).

Asters a-plenty

Nevertheless, it was great to see so many people out enjoying nature on this fine summer's day.  Larry, Catherine and I had fun picking out the ski runs as we traversed across Meadows' slopes.  Everything looked so different without snow!

Walking through the flower fields

After enjoying a lunch break near the Shooting Star chairlift, we began our descent into Heather Canyon.  The canyon's west slopes were quite lush and lovely.  I captured Catherine and Larry enjoying the views next to a small stream.

Lovely green brook in Heather Canyon

There's even a small waterfall that drops over a rocky outcrop.

Heather Canyon Falls

On this portion of the hike, my friends and I ran into a large group of people who were backpacking the entire Timberline Trail.  They told us a harrowing tale of fording Eliot Creek, a dangerous glacial stream that is known for it's crossing difficulty.  One lady in their party got knocked over by the water's force and was nearly swept away.  Luckily she was pulled to safety, shaken but unharmed.

Cairns pointed the way

Creek crossings were on our minds as my companions and I approached roaring Clark Creek at Heather Canyon's very bottom.  Although not as difficult as the Eliot, it still posed a challenge to traverse.

Crossing Clark Creek in Heather Canyon

Catherine and Larry scouted possible crossing places as I snapped a few photos of the barren, rock-lined banks.  Larry ended up rock-hopping, while Catherine shuffled across on a narrow log.  Stashing my camera, I started to step towards the creek, when my foot caught on a rock, and down I went.  My left shin took the brunt of the fall, striking a large boulder.  I yelped in pain.

Climbing out of Heather Canyon

After picking myself up, and determining that my legs still worked, I shimmied across the creek via Catherine's log.  Leg throbbing mightily, I rolled up my pants leg to assess the damage.  I discovered a golf-ball sized goose egg swelling on my shin.  It was already turning purple.  Uh-oh!

Looking waayyy down into Newton Canyon

Would I be able to hike out?  We still had about three miles to go.  Larry grabbed one of my bandanas, soaked it in the icy-cold stream, and set it on my leg.  Catherine scooped up a bit of mud and smeared it over the impact area.  They both told me to sit tight for a few minutes to see if the swelling would go down.  I took the opportunity to gulp down a few ibuprofen tablets from my first aid kit (here's a tip - always carry some "vitamin I".)

After chilling for a few minutes, I tested out my leg by putting weight on it.  Although still throbbing, nothing appeared to be broken.  The mud and cold water had taken down much of the swelling.  I gave my companions the thumbs up and we resumed our hike.

Our trail followed the top of Newton Canyon

The east side of Heather Canyon is the polar opposite of it's western cousin.  Rocky, barren and dusty, my friends and I quickly ascended this leg.  The cool, shady forest on top was most welcoming.

The Timberline Trail wound across Mt Hood, opening up a few views, until it junctioned with the Newton Creek Trail.  This supremely scenic trail followed the top of Newton Creek's high canyon winding downhill to water level.  Gray, long-dead trees stood adjacent to the path like long-lost sentinels.   But, oh were the views from up here spectacular!  Looking into the canyon, Newton Creek seemed like a tiny stream far below.

We found tons of ripe huckleberries

Motion seemed to help my leg, and the bump began to subside.  After climbing a good portion of the day, it was nice to finally be traveling downhill.  As we descended to lower portions of the Newton Trail, Catherine discovered adjacent bushes thick with huckleberries.  Again, forward progress stopped and a picking frenzy began.

Huckleberry picking break!

The berries were the best I'd seen so far all summer.  Huge, plump and juicy, their sweet taste filled my mouth.  (Two for me, one for Catherine's bottle)  A passing group of hikers asked Catherine what she was doing, and when informed that the berries were edible, joined us in the bushes.

Newton Creek floodplain destruction

After filling most of Catherine's bottle, we resumed our trip.  Newton Creek, so far away into the canyon when we first started, began to get closer as we trekked downhill.  Just before the final trail junction, it reached water level, and my friends and I marveled at the huge boulders and uprooted trees littering it's banks.  Glacial streams are nothing to mess with!

Newton Creek

Finally our last trail came into view.  Only one more mile to go!  Although my battered lower leg was holding up, I was still ready to be done.  Crossing Clark Creek once again, this time on a nice wooden bridge, a quick half mile walk brought us back to the parking area.

Bridge over Clark Creek

Another great day of adventure on Mt Hood!  Remember if you want to witness these summer wildflower fields for yourself, just head on over to Mt Hood Meadows next August.