Monday, July 9, 2012

Grassy Knoll

You just can't trust the weatherman.

Planning ahead for last weekend's hike, I consulted the local forecast.  Saturday was typical Oregon cloudy and rainy, but sunny skies were predicted for Sunday.  My destination - Grassy Knoll, a flower-filled trek near Carson, WA.  I'd visited this trail twice before, and knew it offered some great views.   Naturally, I chose Sunday for my hiking day.

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

At the foggy trailhead

I recruited my skiing friends John and Young to join me (they're now also my hiking friends!)  As we drove the long, winding, endless gravel road to the trailhead, the sky started looking cloudier.  Then we were engulfed in a thick bank of fog.  Mist dotted the windshield.  Where was that sunny day we were promised?

Nice lupine right at the trailhead sign

Foggy, wet skies greeted my party at the trailhead.  We all donned gaiters, rain jackets, and slung plastic trash bags over our packs.  Ugh - it's late June!  I thought we were done with waterproofing ourselves.  Apparently not.

Foggy woods

The hike begins climbing almost immediately from the trailhead.  It winds through a dense forest of huge Douglas firs.  Fog clung to the woods in a misty white cloud.  Although I was still feeling disappointment about missing the great views this hike showcases, I had to admit the fog made for some cool photos.

John discovered a bird's nest

About a mile in, we began seeing the wildflowers.  First there was "paintbrush alley," a spot in the trail lined with glowing orange Indian paintbrush blooms.  Then a rock outcrop, brimming with bright pink penstemon.  Finally, the side of Grassy Knoll itself anointed in a kaleidoscope of wildflowers.

Wildflower meadows on the side of Grassy Knoll

As we hiked the steep trail up the side of Grassy Knoll, John was surprised by a bird bursting from the flower fields, practically next to his foot.  Peering under the vegetation, he spotted a small nest with four tiny speckled eggs.  Young and I crouched down for a look.  Careful not to touch the nest, Young snapped a couple of quick shots for documentation.

Lunch with a nice view

We arrived at the top of Grassy Knoll to find it enshrouded in a thick fog.  There were a few small scattered flowers, but without the views there was no reason to linger.  Time to move on.  Nothing to see here.

The larkspur were abundant!

Beyond Grassy Knoll, the trail continues a mile to Grassy Pass.  From previous hikes, I remembered the flowers at Grassy Pass being even more spectacular than at Grassy Knoll.  I suggested to John and Young we continue farther and check things out.

The trail leads right through a flower patch

And boy am I glad we did!  The best was yet to come.  The trail continued through open areas where the wildflowers raged.  There were fields of purple larkspur, interwoven with yellow and white flowers (which I couldn't identify). 

Taking time to smell the flowers

When lunchtime rolled around we all sat down in a small open area amidst a sea of yellow and purple.  Lunch spots don't come much better!

Now we're in a huge balsamroot patch

Post lunch my party continued its journey, first through a huge field of balsamroot.

The largest amount of paintbrush I've seen in one place - ever!

Then encountering the largest field of Indian paintbrush I've ever seen.  The hillsides were dotted with orange spots as far as the eye could see.  It was breathtaking!

Vivid orange paintbrush

And the foggy weather actually made for good photographic conditions.  No shadows and super saturated colors.  I got some wonderful shots.


We crossed the Pacific Crest Trail

After trekking through all those amazing meadows, the trail again re-entered the forest.  My maps showed Big Huckleberry Mountain an additional 2 miles away.  Still thinking we had plenty of time, the group consensus was to push on.

Reaching the summit of Big Huckleberry Mtn

After all those beautiful flower fields, the forest path seemed downright boring.  We trudged along through endless woods.  It was the longest two miles I've ever traveled.  But we finally intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail.  From the PCT it was only a steep 0.2 mile climb to the top of Big Huckleberry Mountain.  We celebrated our arrival on the summit by taking a few group victory photos.

The skies began clearing on our return trip

We didn't linger long on top.  Big Huckleberry's summit was windy, and besides it was getting late, and the brewpub was calling.  The promise of a cold beer was good motivation to get us back through the boring 2-mile stretch of forest.

Path to the top of Grassy Knoll

As we re-entered the grassy flower fields, I noticed the skies clearing.  Adjacent hillsides earlier cloaked in fog were now visible.  Maybe I'd get some views today after all.

Old fire lookout foundations

Approaching Grassy Knoll's summit a second time, visibility was much improved.  Not only the slopes of Grassy Knoll, but also adjacent hillsides could be seen.  And breaks in the clouds offered occasional glimpses of the Columbia River.  This time I actually stopped and spent a couple of minutes photographing at the top of the knoll.

Finally some views!

Returning back through the rocky outcrops, the skies cleared enough to provide a reason to stop and gaze towards the horizon.  Although the clouds wouldn't lift high enough to show Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams, I was still happy that at least we could now see something.

Arriving back at our vehicles, all declared the hike a success.  Although we missed the famous views, the prolific wildflowers more than made up for it.  The fog was fun to photograph and created vibrant colors for our images.  And the cool, wet weather made for comfortable hiking conditions.

Ironically, driving home through the Gorge later that evening, I was almost back to town when the sun finally decided to make an appearance.  (No, you really can't trust that weatherman!)


  1. I see the weathermen are no better at predicting the weather out there than they are here. LOL! It was still a great day and as always, your photos are gorgeous!

  2. But the weather gave you some really nice color

  3. Gorgeous flowers. What a wonderful hike.

  4. love the shots with the fog in them. you go the best places I know I say that a lot but you do. I just heard about a book maybe you would be interested in it. its called Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

  5. What a great post. The flowers and scenery are just lovely!

  6. Have just come blog-hopping from Colorado Lifestyle, to say hello from one Linda to another. There are quite a lot of us in the blogsphere - wonder if it's an age thing (what my daughter would call 'Mum's bloggy people').

    Even with the fog, the wildflowers are amazing. I've rarely seen such a concentration.

  7. More amazing 'WILDFlOWERS'! Just love them. Foggy wood though, is my favourite shot.

  8. Had to come visit this post too. I think they are even more beautiful in the soft diffused light.



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