Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Rain Escape

The weekend before last rain was forecast for the Portland area.  Yes, rain - in July!  (We really haven't had much of a summer yet here - but that's another story).  Of course this had to be the same weekend Roger and I chose for our first backpacking trip in two years.

Gotta get a trailhead pic!

Since we hadn't backpacked for awhile, I wanted to pick a trail that wasn't too long or hard.  I also was hoping to bag another new hike from Sullivan's book.  And, of course, if I could find someplace away from rainy Portland, so much the better.

Ball Point rises from the sagebrush

I'd always wanted to hike up Ball Point, located east of Mt. Hood in the Badger Creek Wilderness.  The trailhead is a long drive from Portland, too long for a dayhike (which was the main reason this hike wasn't checked off in my book).  It looked easy enough for two novice backpackers, and since it was on the east side of Hood, we stood a better chance of escaping the "liquid sunshine."  So Roger and I decided Ball Point was to be our weekend's destination.

Top of the saddle

We arrived at the trailhead shortly after noon on Saturday, and were soon sweating under the sunny skies as we climbed towards Ball Point. The trail started out in a sage-brushy grassland punctuated by a few scraggly oak trees.  We climbed through that zone into a burned-out forest of ponderosa pines.  A large forest fire swept through this area in 2007.  Although the plant life is rebounding, there are still lots of blackened trees - stark reminders of the great fire.

Eastern Oregon panorama - click on photo for a larger view

There is a saddle viewpoint about a mile from the trailhead, that offers great vistas of eastern Oregon.  Roger and I huffed and puffed up a steep slope that led us to a grassy, clear knob just below Ball Point.  What a glorious view we had!  A panorama of eastern Oregon stretched out before us.  We could see forests and the farmlands beyond.  If the sky hadn't been so cloudy, we could have seen the mountains of central Oregon.  However, even without the mountain views, it was a grand sight.

Crossing a blow-down
From the saddle, the trail wound around the north side of Ball Point.  We entered into the woods (what was left of them).  A few flowers were blooming, but most looked like they were past their prime.  Oh well, at least it wasn't raining.

Stunningly beautiful Cascade Lilies

Then we ran into a group of dayhikers returning to the traihead.  After exchanging "hellos," a man in the group informed us that further down the trail a bunch of Cascade lilies were blooming.  He told us it was the best display he'd seen of these flowers.  Excited, Roger and I bid the group goodbye, and continued our hike.

Plant life rebounding from the fire

It wasn't much further and we ran into lilyland!  The lovely flowers lined the trail on both sides. The Cascade lilies were absolutely exquisite.  Some were creamy white, while others were a beautiful shade of pink.  And the blossoms emitted a wonderful aroma.  There was lots of photography happening.  As a matter of fact, I think half of the photos we took on this trip were of those lilies.

Roger at the helispot

During our extended lily photography session, the sky began to cloud up.  Roger and I suddenly noticed some dark clouds hovering over the northern sky.  And off to the southeast, a big thunderhead cloud was beginning to build.  Oh-oh, this didn't look so good!  Time to get moving.

View to the east from the helispot

We followed the trail as it led us to the other end of Ball Point.  Thunder began to rumble from the clouds.  With most of the trees burned, the forest was pretty clear in this area.  Not a good place to be in a lightning storm.  Roger and I upped our pace, hoping to pass through this area quickly before anything happened.

Abandoned miner's cabin

About four miles in, we came upon a helispot, a large cleared area that is designated for helicopter landing. There were some great views from this point. But by then, the storm clouds were gathering, and the thunder was still booming.  Roger didn't think this was a good place to hang out at the moment, so we continued on to find the campsite that was supposed to be nearby.

Our humble camp

As it turned out, the campsite was not very far from the helispot.  It was a nice spot, with tree canopy and a small firepit.  We had partial views of the eastern Oregon plains.  I located the spring that my guidebook said was nearby.  A trail downhill from the campsite led to a cute mossy glen with a burbling spring.  But the best part?  We had the place all to ourselves.

Good ol' box wine - a camper's friend!

After we'd unpacked and set up the tent, my hubby took off his boots and discovered two large blisters on his feet - one on each heel. He'd suffered in silence the entire climb up to the campsite. He was for sure done hiking for the day.

A toast to a great day in the woods

I however still had some energy.  My guidebook described a hike down the nearby Little Badger Creek Trail to an old abandoned mine and cabin.  Someone on the Portland Hikers website had recently visited this place, and posted photos, which got me intrigued.  I decided to go down the Little Badger Creek trail in search of this old mine. The thunderstorms that had been threatening us seemed to be heading away from our little camp, so I was no longer worried about getting rained on (or worse).

The next morning - packed up and ready to hit the trail!

The trail down to the mine was a steep downhill ramble. I traveled about a mile before coming upon the old cabin.  I located the mine, a nondescript hole in the side of a hill.   I thought about exploring, but remembering one of the photos from the Portland Hikers website of a rat inside the tunnel, I decided not to venture inside. The half tumbled-down cabin was very interesting. It looked to be made of sturdy logs which were sun-bleached, but intact.  Weathered remnants of furnishings were scattered about.  I'm not sure of the story behind the mine and cabin, so I don't know how long it's been sitting idle.  An interesting slice of history tucked deep in the wilderness.

Another lily photo

But the uphill trek back to the campsite was not very fun!  By now the storm clouds had moved on, and the sun was out.  It was a hot strenuous climb back up that trail.  I returned to camp tired, thirsty, and ready for dinner.

Climbing back over the tree

Roger got some water boiling for our "wonderful" dehydrated meals.  I broke out a small box of chardonnay, that I'd carried in my pack, and a few pieces of wax-coated cheese (which held up really well considering the warm day).  So while waiting for the water to boil, we had our own little happy hour right there in our camp, complete with wine and cheese!

Cascade lilly photo op

Roger and I were both tired from our day's hike, so we retired early to the tent.  The night was amazingly silent - almost kind of eerie.  We live very close to a freeway, and I didn't realize how much I'm used to background city noise.  It was almost too quiet to sleep.

Creamy white lily flanked by it's pink sisters

But sleep we did, although I did wake up several times in the night.  I learned one thing I'll do different for the next trip - I'm purchasing a good Thermarest sleeping pad.  The cheap, crummy pad I used was useless.  I might as well have slept on the ground.  The aches from my back and hip kept me up intermittently throughout the night, and ruined what would've probably been a decent night's sleep.  Live and learn.

Burned out forest coming back to life

Roger and I awoke to cloudy skies.  A couple of passing light showers left sprinkles of rain on our tent, but the morning was dry.  We had a leisurely breakfast, then stuffed everything into our packs for the hike out.  We had a quick trek back to the trailhead, save for a few more Cascade lily photography sessions.


As my hubby and I hiked out, the clouds began to thicken. The skies were looking threatening again, but we managed beat the rain back to the trailhead.

Imagine our surprise as Roger and I drove home, when we encountered torrential rain in the Gorge. We found out later it had been pouring in Portland all morning.  I learned that most of the popular hiking trails nearer to Portland had been rainy and wet all day Sunday.  We really lucked out.  Not only did my hubby and I escape the rain, we visited a place that afforded views, stunning flowers, and solitude.  A successful first backpacking trip!


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