My friend John goes hiking almost every weekend. I hadn't hiked with John for awhile, so decided last Sunday to join him and his group.
John's trail of choice for the day was Devil's Peak via the Cool Creek Trail. I'd hiked this trail once before about five years ago, and didn't remember much except that it was steep and boring. That, and I'd accidentally set my altimeter watch to "meters" instead of "feet" and thought the climb would never end! When John first suggested visiting this trail I wasn't super gung-ho. But it's a good climb, and the old fire lookout tower that's at the top is really cool, so in the end I decided to come along.
In addition to John and myself, Young and John (another John!), a married couple who are friends with John #1, were part of the group for today. And of course I brought my doggie Bear, who I didn't dare leave at home.
The Cool Creek Trail gains 3200 feet of elevation in four miles. The grueling climb starts right from the trailhead, and hikers immediately find themselves switchbacking up through the thick forest.
|These rhodies caught a ray of sunshine
Instead of lugging my DSLR up the mountain, I decided to bring my little point and shoot camera. I reasoned there really wasn't that much to take photos of on this trail anyway. Why carry the big heavy camera?
|The wonderful forest
Well......I soon regretted that decision. About a mile or so up the trail we ran into rhodie-land and beargrass-ville! Rhodies were blooming everywhere, and stalks of poofy beargrass lined both sides of the trail. It was the best display of beargrass and rhododendrons I've seen yet this year. Our forward progress came to a grinding halt, as everyone pulled out their cameras and began shooting.
Unfortunately, the mid-day light was terrible for photography. My point and shoot was no match for these challenging conditions, and my photos showed it. About this time I was really wishing I would've packed my big camera. Oh well - TGFP (thank goodness for photoshop)!
|Mt. Hood - ta da!
Finally my group tore ourselves away from the wonderful flower fields and continued up the trail. We climbed and climbed until we were very close to the summit. John, who has hiked this trail many times, knew of some little clearings off the main trail. He led us through the bushes to an especially nice one. There before us was a drop-dead gorgeous view of Mt. Hood. Time for another photo session!
|This butterfly posed for one shot
Not far from the wonderful clearing, we hiked through a meadowy area filled with flowers. A butterfly was flitting around, and John and I attempted to catch it with our camera shutters. I was lucky enough to capture a photograph when it landed on nearby flower.
|Approaching the lookout tower
All the extended photo sessions of rhodies and butterflies took its toll, and it seemed to take a long time to reach the top. But we finally climbed the final pitch, and there was the top of Devil's Peak, and the old fire lookout tower.
|Devil's Peak lookout
Another group had been camping in the tower, but they were just leaving as we walked up, so we ended up having the place to ourselves. The lookout building is very well preserved. I'm told it is maintained by a "friends of" group. It was well stocked with firewood and had furnishings inside. What a great place to spend the night.
|Can't beat the view!
And best of all, there is a killer view of Mt. Hood from the doorway.
|Lunch with friends
We were all set to have lunch at the lookout tower, but our leader John had other ideas. He led us downslope past the tower until we came to a ledge overlooking the entire Salmon Creek drainage. We could see Mt. Jefferson off in the distance. It was a commanding view of the entire area. Yes, this was a much better lunch spot.
|Me enjoying the views from the tower
After a great lunch, we stopped by the lookout tower for photos and exploration. With views like these, I think I could handle being stationed out here for the summer. It is really great that some of these old fire lookouts have been preserved for future generations to enjoy.
|Another flowery photo session
After soaking in the views, we headed back down to the trailhead. We all made a pact to keep our cameras in our packs for the trip down. Well....that lasted about five minutes! Leader John came across some flowers he just had to capture, and then all bets were off. By the time we passed through the rhodie zone again, everyone's cameras were out! So much for good intentions.
|John finds a new comfort
On our way up the trail that morning, my group had heard a baby crying. A couple of minutes later, we met some people coming down the trail, and one man had a small baby on his back. We didn't think another thing of it, until on the way down, John discovered a pacifier in the trail. He attached it to his pack and jokingly said he'd give it to the next person caught whining.
|Lily photography is a group effort
Near the end of the trail John spotted a couple of Cascade lilies. I'd seen my fill the week before, and didn't feel the need to photograph any more. But John attempted to get a couple shots, and Young helped him out by holding the flowers in position.
This trail redeemed itself to me big time! We had a great day, and got to see a wonderful display of wildflowers. And next time I'm bringing my good camera!