Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fish Creek Mountain

Welcome to another edition of "New Hike Fridays."  Today's hike takes us to a little-known trail near the Clackamas River, deep in the heart of Mt. Hood National Forest.

Size matters!  Click on any photo to enjoy a larger version.

Attention-getting first photo (did it work?)

Flex Friday off work rolled around again.  Time to pick another untrodden trail from my Sullivan "100 Hikes" book.  Fish Creek Mountain was this week's winner.  The road to the trailhead was washed out back in 1996, so this hike had never made it on my radar.   Inaccessible for many years, I discovered the trailhead had been reopened after seeing a couple trip reports on the Portland Hikers website.  Apparently the Forest Service had created a new access from a different road.  That was good enough for me.  Time to check it out!

The trailhead was marked by this tiny sign

I was nervous about finding the trailhead, as it was down a long, winding, isolated Forest Service road.  Armed with maps and detailed instructions from the Trail Advocates website, I bravely struck out that morning.  Turned out the road was a snap to find, and even better, it was paved most of the way.  Bonus!

The trailhead, however, wasn't as obvious.  If I hadn't wandered into the bushes for a "nature break," I don't think I would've seen the small, brown message board uphill from the parking area.  This was the beginning of the new connector trail built to lead hikers to the old trailhead.

The columbine was going strong

This crude trail switchbacked up a ridge.  It was overgrown in places, and not very easy to follow.  I twice lost the path and had to backtrack.  Not even my gps was helpful.  But just as I was starting to wonder if I was on the right track, the trail popped out onto an old abandoned road.  Some nice person had left a rock cairn and flagging to mark this junction.  A good confidence booster, these markings confirmed I wasn't lost.

So were the rhodies!

My directions were to follow this long-abandoned road for a third of a mile to reach the original trailhead.  The road was totally overgrown and in a few places nearly impassible.  But there was a couple of nice patches of columbine flowers and another spot full of small purple flowers that made the journey enjoyable.

Original trailhead sign - I was very glad to see this!

I walked on, looking for a fork in the road with a ridge rising between the junction.  According to my directions, this was supposedly the start of the old trail.  After traveling a distance that felt longer than a third of a mile I came upon the said intersection.  There was a well-worn gash in the ridge between the roads - was this the trail?  Only one way to find out.  I ascended the ramp and once on top saw, much to my relief, a sign for "Trail 541" affixed to a nearby tree.  I'd found the old trailhead!

Larkspur everywhere

The top of this ridge was a lovely place. Large pink rhododendron blossoms sprouted from a nearby bush.  Purple penstemon flowers covered the ground.  And bright orange Indian paintbrush added accents to the forest floor.  Happy to finally arrive at the "official" trailhead, I celebrated by capturing images of these magically beautiful woods.


Forest views

From this point on, the trail was easy to follow.  But it began a relentless climb up a ridge.  I trudged on, panting and puffing under my backpack's load.  Not remembering so much elevation gain in the hike description, I looked it up later and discovered the trail climbed 1300 feet in a little less than two miles.  No wonder I was sucking air!


My doggie is havin' a ball

Bear and I came upon a clearing that offered nice views down to the forested valley below.  The adjacent slope was chock-full of wildflowers.  There were purple larkspur, and a yellow flower I didn't know the name of.  A wonderful sight!  Time for more Kodak moments.

Almost to the summit.  Yippee!

I kept looking for the next trail junction.  This junction gave visitors the choice between a 0.4 mile trek to the top of  Fish Creek Mountain, or 0.7 mile descent down to High Lake.  I traveled along, debating whether to head for the summit first, or check out the lake.  Finally coming upon this sign, the summit called louder, so that's where I headed.

Summit shot with Bear

I'm always happy to reach the top of a mountain, no matter the size.  Fish Creek Mountain was no exception.  Bear and I checked out the remains of an old fire lookout tower, long gone.  All that was left were four concrete piers, some melted glass, and an old rusted bucket.  The cloudy skies obscured any view of Mt. Hood, but I was able to spot Olallie Butte and a few glimpses of Mt. Jefferson.

The trail to High Lake was obliterated by snow

After taking in some lunch, it was time to head back down to High Lake.  Bear and I turned at the junction, this time choosing the trail to the lake.  I love tiny alpine lakes that are tucked into remote corners of the forest, and was looking forward to discovering this one.

Gorgeous trailside rhodies

The path crossed a small patch of snow.  Not a big deal.  Then we encountered a longer patch.  Still okay, I could see the trail continuation on the other side.  But then I hit a a huge snowbank that totally obliterated the trail.  Hmmm........

Caterpillar on a flower

I pulled out my gps.  Could I navigate my way to the lake?  Looking around, the forest floor was covered with snow as far as the eye could see.  Even if I could find my way, did I really want to deal with hiking through snow?  I love skiing in the snow, but hiking in it, not so much.


Rhodie close-up

So I turned around and picked my way back through the snow, following my footprints to the trail.  High Lake would have to wait until another day.

Another columbine photo - just because!

My return trip was even better.  Not only did I get to see (and of course photograph) all those lovely flowers and forest scenes again, but my path was all downhill!  I arrived at my car with a full memory card and a tired dog.  And I got back late enough to avoid most of the rush hour traffic on the way home.

That concludes this week's episode of "New Hike Fridays."  Another hike closer to finishing the book.  Join me again next time!



  1. I very much enjoy your blog posts and admire how you stay up to date. I can't seem to do that. Keep going!

  2. I love New Hike Friday's and I love reading hiker accounts of trails hiked on the opposite coast from me! Am so enjoying your blog. I also use the 100 Hikes series. My tattered copy of 100 Classic Hikes in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is taped many times over!!

  3. Just love joining you each Friday! Today's photos of your 'wild flowers' is no exception. All favourites and even with tender loving care, rarely do well in my garden. Have had to go back to natives which have their own beauty, but to see the larkspur etc growing wild, is just amazing!!!!

  4. Hello fellow Oregonian!!! This is an awesome looking hike! I will have to try it sometime :) You have a new blog follower!

    If you get a chance, stop by my blog and "Like" Hood Photography on Facebook! Thanks!

  5. Your Friday Hikes are a favorite of mine. Hard to believe snow is still on the ground in July. That always amazes me and it really surprised me when we were on top of St. Mary's in Colorado in August last year.

  6. love the rhodes they grow so much bigger and more vibrant with all the rain on that west side of washington and oregon.

  7. Oh my gosh you are my hiking guru, idol, mentor. I don't know but you are awesome and I love the places you visit. We had snow up at Crater Lake last week. Lots of it.

  8. You seem very lucky in North America to have such well marked trails. In Scotland we do a lot of stumbling around in the heather...


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