Friday, July 22, 2011

Misadventures in Hiking

OK folks, it's time for a return to my regularly scheduled hiking tales.  I'm still playing catch-up from my vacation, so this story is from two weeks ago.

As I've mentioned before, one of my long-time goals is to hike all of the hikes in William Sullivan's "100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon" book. After 10-plus years, I've whittled the list down to about a dozen left to explore. Two weeks ago I decided to check another hike off my list, and chose the Old Baldy trail as my day's destination.

(Click on any photo for a full-size version)

Bear, always up for a hike!

This trail looked good on paper.  It was a fairly short drive from home, offered an opportunity to bag two summits in a day (Old Baldy and Squaw Mountain), and best of all, the drive to the trailhead was entirely on paved roads!  Bear and I loaded into my Subie, and headed for the hills.

Lovely green woods

After a little searching, I found the unmarked parking area that was the trailhead.  Shortly after I'd parked, another car with two ladies inside showed up.  We exchanged our "hellos" and started towards the trail together.  Not far from the road we came upon a nice new sign that announced the Old Baldy trail.  I, of course, stopped for a photo op, and was left behind.

Rhodies in bloom

No matter, it was a beautiful day, and I was enjoying my solo trek through this lovely forest.  The rhodies were just beginning to bloom along the trail, and I was able to get a few photos of their pink blossoms. There were also a couple of Beargrass plumes beside the trail.  I'd rambled on for awhile when, it suddenly dawned on me that I had been hiking downhill for quite some time.  Hmmm...... the trail was supposed to climb up to a mountain wasn't it?  I continued on thinking I'd surely begin climbing soon. After walking a little bit further, I came upon the two ladies sitting on a log having a snack. They asked me if we were on the right trail, since all we'd been doing is going downhill. About that time I was beginning to have my doubts.  I whipped out my map of the area. In addition to Old Baldy and Squaw Mtn, the map also showed a trail called the Eagle Creek Cutoff.  It appeared to switchback downhill to a creek. I began to wonder if we were on the wrong trail.

Rhodies showing off their pretty pink blossoms

But the ladies and I both decided to go just a little further to be sure. We started out together for a few minutes, but then I saw something I wanted to photograph, so my companions continued on without me. The trail began to switchback down hill very steeply. About that time I decided this couldn't be the right trail - it didn't look right at all.  It had to be the Eagle Creek Cutoff. Where had I gone wrong? I decided to retrace my steps back towards the parking area, to see if there was a trail junction I'd missed.

This sign is not right!

The unfortunate thing was that what goes down must come back up. I had to trudge back up all that steep hill I'd been happily waltzing down. I had no idea how much elevation I lost, but it was a lot. And it was quite a slog back up! About halfway back to the trailhead, I took a break and downed a PB&J. I was just about done with my lunch, when the two ladies came puffing up the hill. Apparently they'd made it all the way down to the creek, and from that point the trail was impassable due to high water across the path. After hearing their story, I knew for sure we'd picked the wrong trail. We had to be on the Eagle Creek Cutoff.

Another incorrect trail sign

I huffed and puffed back up the hill, all the time looking for any trail I might have missed. I ended up back at the "Old Baldy" trail sign and didn't see a thing. I looked all around the sign, searching for another trail, but there was none to be found.

Back at the trailhead again... It was only two o'clock in the afternoon, and I hated to head home so soon. Since I'd been skunked trying to find Old Baldy, I decided to try for another summit. Sullivan's book said Squaw Mountain was only a little over 2 miles from the same parking area. That seemed do-able.  I knew I could make it there and back before it got too late.

Avalanche lilies

Sullivan's book and my map indicated the location of the Squaw Mtn trail to be south of the parking area. I saw a trail in that general direction and headed towards it. Imagine my surprise when the sign adjacent to this trail read "Eagle Creek Cutoff - TR No. 504." That wasn't right at all!  Not again!

By this time I'd lost faith in these trail signs, and followed the path anyway.  When I met up with a junction that was noted on my map I knew I was on the right trail for Squaw Mountain.

Trail sign in the middle of a snowfield

Past the junction all of a sudden the trail disappeared under a large amount of snow. Uh-oh, where was the trail now? I pulled out my gps for guidance.  Bear, who seems to have a nose for finding the way, darted on ahead. I followed my pup and lo, and behold he was waiting for me on the other side of the snowdrift, and there was the continuation of the trail.

Traversing a snowy slope

From that point on, the trail was intermittently snow covered. I relied on my gps to keep myself moving in the right direction and followed some faint footprints in the snow.  The snow was so deep in places, I had to kick steps and climb a couple of times.  Afraid of getting lost, I considered turning back.  But not wanting to fail a second time, I pushed back my fear and continued on.

Killer summit view

The trail intersected with an old road.  The footsteps in the snow continued along this road, so I kept following.  Not far from the junction, the forest above me seemed to be clearing.  It looked like the top of something.  Shortcutting the road, I plowed straight through the snow towards what looked to be a summit.  As I pulled myself up the final pitch, I saw a set of old steps to a lookout tower.  Mt. Hood appeared above the trees.  This was it.  I'd made it to the top of Squaw Mountain!  Success!

Mt. Hood extreme close-up

There was an absolutely stunning view of Mt. Hood from Squaw Mountain's summit.  The sky was clear enough to see the mountain in all her glory.  It was wonderful to sit back and enjoy the views I'd worked so hard for.

Benchmark on top of Squaw Mtn.

There was a bunch of cool old relics from a lookout tower that used to sit atop Squaw Mountain.  The concrete steps and foundations from the tower were still standing.  I also found an old benchmark among the rocks.

Vibrant orange paintbrush

There was even some flowers blooming on Squaw's summit.  A bright orange patch of paintbrush, and bunches of pretty violet phlox squeezed themselves out from between the rocky, gravelly surface.

Lovely phlox flowers

Upon my return to the car, I happened to notice a very faint trail heading off to the north from one side of the parking pullout. Could this be the Old Baldy trail? I followed it for a little ways, and it appeared to be heading in the correct direction.  I was really curious, and wanted to see where it went.  However, it was getting late, and the uphill climb had done me in. I decided to save it for another day.

So even thought I failed in my attempt to reach Old Baldy, I was successful in bagging another peak. And I had an adventurous walk through the snow!  My hiking misadventure had a happy ending after all.



  1. Your rhodies are gorgeous! And those avalanche lilies…exquisite! I love your photos. Your trees and trails always make me want to be right there :)

    So glad you'll be doing HTC! I really hope to meet you :) my email is xlmic.tio(at) Message me!

  2. I am impressed that you are working through the 100 hikes and that you had both a map and a gps. I always forget one or the other, so if I end up lost, I'm really lost!

    Gorgeous photos. I've never seen avalanche lilies. Beautiful!


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