Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The First Fall Colors

Last Friday I had a day off.  I called my friend John, who is retired, and asked if he was interested in a hike.  John loves hiking, and said "of course!"  He suggested a trek up to Indian Mountain on the PCT, and to make it a loop, return on two different trails.  I'd never been on any of these trails, and was ready to explore something new.  Besides, hiking with John is always an adventure!

The vine maple shows its fall colors

John and I accessed the PCT at Wahtum Lake, which is north of Mt. Hood.  We drove a long winding Forest Service Road up to the lake.  At the trailhead, the weather was cloudy and the temperature 45 degrees.  Summer is over in the mountains!

A closer view of these pretty leaves

But on the trail, I was pleasantly surprised to see lots of fall color.  As we hiked up the PCT, I noticed the vine maple leaves were already turning beautiful shades of orange and red.

Crossing a talus slope

The PCT in this area was nicely graded.  We crossed some large talus slopes, and got a few peek-a-boo views of the terrain through the trees.

Beautiful red leaves

One of the talus slopes had lots of brilliant vine maple trees showing off their finest fall colors.  I took a long photo break here.

Lovely vine maple colors

More vine maple fall colors.  Such beauty!

The clouds and fog parted for a view of the area

While on the scenic talus slope, the clouds and fog momentarily parted, and I was treated to a nice view of the mountains and valleys below.  Some splashes of red and orange added a little color to the landscape.

This hillside was covered with red huckleberry bushes

The trail came out on a hillside near Indian Mountain covered with huckleberry bushes, their leaves a lovely shade of red.  The green and brown colors of the other vegetation added to the palette.  It was very photogenic!

Indian Mountain summit emerges from the clouds

As you can guess, I spent some time trying to capture the wonderful fall colors!  John had his camera out too, and we both clicked away for a while.

John and Bear at a trail sign cairn

John and I hiked along a wide open rocky ridge.  There were views towards the Gorge, and John pointed out a few of its features.  Where the trail got lost in the rocks, some nice hikers had left large rock cairns to help guide our way.  However, Indian mountain loomed ahead, so it wasn't too hard to navigate towards our destination.

Indian Mtn summit getting swallowed up by fog

John, Bear and I trudged up the side of Indian Mountain, through the forest.  We hit the cloud layer, and there wasn't much for views.  Finally, we popped out onto a rocky area, and there was the summit!  What a nice sight!  I was tired, hungry, and ready for a break.

John's summit photo

Although it was cloudy and foggy at the top, we could see partial views of the valley below.  From what views I could see, I was impressed.  John said there is a stunning view of Mt. Hood from this vantage.  Guess I'll have to come back again on a clear day!

Signing the summit register

I inhaled my lunch.  I was starving!  The summit was windy and cold, so we bundled up with a couple of layers.  John brought a thermos of hot tea, and being the nice friend he is, shared it with me.  The tea tasted wonderful, and really helped to warm me up.

My summit self-portrait. 

Indian Mountain has its own summit register, residing in a small metal box.  John had fun reading some of the entries in the register.  He found an entry he made from 2006.  I tried hard to think of something profound to write, but in the end just babbled about how wonderful it was up on the summit. 

I also took lots of summit photos, and even experimented with some self-portraits.  I'm getting better at positioning the camera to include my face and a little bit of scenery.  I'm kind of proud how well this photo turned out.

More talus slopes

Soon it was time to head back.  John said we still had seven miles to cover before we were back at the car.  After hiking down the mountain, and over the rocky ridge, we took another trail that dove down into the valley, losing all of the elevation we gained and then some.

The forest is decked out for fall

I think John said we lost 2500' on that trail.  It sure seemed like it!  We hiked down, and down, and then down some more.  There were some steep downhills.  My knees were starting to complain.  And then, just when I thought we'd never be done descending, we arrived at the junction with the trail that climbs out of Eagle Creek.  This was the trail that would take us back to Wahtum Lake and the car.

Wahtum Lake reflections

This new trail was all uphill.  It was well graded, so even though we were climbing, it was never too steep.  I found it a welcome break from hiking downhill.  And my knees were thanking me! 

We hiked along a pretty creek, through some beautiful old growth forests, and over a couple of flowing drainages.  There were also some more nice fall colors to admire.  Even though I was starting to get tired, the scenery kept me entertained.

The staircase to the parking lot

Soon Wahtum Lake came back into view.  What a welcome sight!  It is such a beautiful lake.  We hiked by a few nice lakeside campsites, and  I made a mental note to come back and camp here someday.  John talked to one man camping at the lake, who had been hiking the PCT for the past nine days.  Wow!

Our final challenge was to hike up the 200 steps from the lake to the parking area.  It's called the "Wahtum Express Trail."  After hiking 12 miles, a large set of stairs is not what you want to see.  But at that point I had "horse in the barn" syndrome, so I powered up those steps!

I've discovered another great area to hike.  And even though it's sad that summer is coming to a close, I'm excited to see fall colors.  I'm looking forward to fall hiking, and the beautiful scenery it brings.

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