Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dog Mountain Annual Flower Show

Dog Mountain is a humble green hump that rises from the Washington side of the Gorge.  Most of the year it is just a steep hike up to a summit through nondescript woods and meadows.  But during the end of May, its meadows explode into a dazzling floral display.

View ahead to our goal

It's an annual tradition of mine to hike Dog Mountain when the flowers are in bloom.  Of course, that's when everyone else hikes Dog too.  Late spring weekends the parking lot overflows into the road and there is a conga-line of people trudging up the trail.  If you're looking for solitude, you won't find it then!

Your choices?  Steep or steeper

But to me the incredible flower show is worth dealing with the crowds.  I missed hiking Dog last year, so I was bound and determined to get up there this spring.

Balsamroot blooms greet the hikers

But there's a high price of admission to this flowery wonderland.  Dog Mountain is a notorious quad-buster.  The trail begins climbing from the get-go and ascends almost 2900 feet in only three miles.  It is not a hike for the faint of heart or weak of legs.  But for those of us who thrive on climbing up steep mountains, it's a great conditioning hike.

I got to hike with Cody again!

Cody joined me for this year's annual Dog Mtn trek.  I have good memories of Cody and I on this trail.  Cody first did this hike back when he was about 10 years old.  He's always been fascinated with plants, trees and flowers, and I remember Cody having fun trying to identify all the different flora.  I have a favorite old photo of Cody at the viewpoint below the summit.  It's a cloudy, gray day and he's bundled up in an oversized fleece jacket with the hood almost covering his face.  Wind Mountain is shrouded in fog below, and you can tell the wind is blowing hard.  But there's big grin on my son's face and you can tell he's having a great time. 

The view from "Puppy Point"

A week ago, I had a Friday off from work, and the forecast was finally calling for sunny skies.  It seemed like a perfect opportunity to hike Dog Mtn.  I recruited Cody and the always-willing Bear, and headed for the Gorge.

Flowers and mountains

We arrived about mid-day and the parking lot was only half full.  I was glad to be able to hike on a weekday, because I knew come the weekend, this lot would be packed.

Chocolate tiger lilies

Cody, Bear and I headed up the steep trail.  The climbing starts immediately, and rarely gives hikers a break.  I thought after all the marathon training I did last winter/spring I'd be in better shape for hiking.  But no - I chugged and puffed up the mountain.  Guess hiking up hills with a loaded pack requires an entirely different set of muscles and conditioning!

Wind Mountain and the Columbia River

The first mile and a half of the trail takes you through the forest.  Then the forest opens up to the lower viewpoint, which some hikers have affectionately named "Puppy Point."  There's a nice view of the Columbia River in both directions and Wind Mountain dominates the western view.

Phlox blooms

And the flowers were out in force!  The entire hillside above Puppy Point was covered with bright yellow balsamroot.  This was the floral show I had hoped for.

A balsamroot flower reaches for the sky

After spending more than a few Kodak moments at Puppy Point, Cody and I continued our trek to the top.  The trail ducks back into the forest, and in some place steepens so much that you feel like you are hardly moving.  In the shaded areas, the snow had recently melted and produced a large hatch of gnats and small flies.  The bugs swarmed us whenever we stopped, and gave me a couple itchy bites.  I was hoping for a breeze at the summit to keep the bugs at bay.

Looking down the summit trail

Then we came to the second viewpoint, this one 1000 feet higher than Puppy Point.  The surrounding hillsides were covered with flowers, mostly balsamroot, but we saw a bunch of other varieties too.  Cody spotted a couple of beautiful chocolate tiger lilies.  Unlike the balsamroot, these flowers are not as common and it's indeed special to spot one.  I used my camera to document our find.

My reward

From the second viewpoint, it was a half mile and 400 feet of climbing to the summit.  The trail snakes through a grassy meadow that is usually yellow with balsamroot by late May.  But not this year.  Above the viewpoint, the balsamroot began to peter out.  Seems our cold and wet spring affected the timing of the bloom.  Luckily, there were other flowers in the meadow that made up for the lack of balsamroot.  So I had something to photograph!

Bear and I relax on the summit

I also had the wonderful sweeping views to focus my camera lens on. The lack of trees and the elevation of the meadow make for some grand vistas.  The Columbia River spread out before me, with Wind Mountain appearing far below.  Mt. Defiance, and a couple other Gorge high points were visible across the river.  I even spotted the tip of Mt. Hood and the top of Mt. St. Helens peeping over the hills.

Mt. St. Helens rises above the hills

I finally arrived at the summit, where Cody was waiting.  We grabbed a spot in the meadow and enjoyed lunch with a view.  Ahhh...... this was our reward for such a strenuous climb!

Another great hike with my son

After enjoying a wonderful lunch (PB &J never tasted so good!) and resting my tired legs, it was time to head back down.  After climbing all morning, hiking downhill felt heavenly.  Of course, after three miles of downhill I was ready again for flat land. 

I'm glad I was able to get up to Dog Mtn for this year's show, even if the flowers weren't up to their usual standards.  We had perfect weather, and smaller crowds.  And it was great to hike this trail with Cody again after so many years. 


1 comment:

  1. Those chocolate tiger lilies are so interesting-looking. They look like some sort of fritillary. Looks like an awesome hike.


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