Saturday, July 21, 2012

Sometimes Getting Lost Can be a Good Thing...

I'd heard the flowers were blooming up on Silver Star Mountain.  Having missed the show last year, I was determined not to let it pass me by again.  I recruited my friends, Young and John to join me for this latest adventure.

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

The hike started out on an old road

Silver Star Mountain is a nondescript bare ridge east of Vancouver, WA.  In 1902, a huge forest fire (the largest in Washington history) swept over its slopes.  After the fire, trees failed to reseed on the mountain's barren slopes.  The sunny, open ridges provided a perfect environment for wildflowers to flourish.  Every July Silver Star and its surrounding hills burst with color.  There isn't a better place to see so many different floral varieties.  Check out a blog post from my last Silver Star Mtn visit here.

Beargrass and Mt. St. Helens

As expected, Silver Star Mountain is a popular hiking destination.  Visitors have many trail choices. There's the Grouse Vista trailhead, on the mountain's south side, by far the quickest and easiest route.  There's the Bluff Mountain trail, north of the mountain, accessible by an extremely long, nasty gravel road.  And there's Ed's Trail, a path closer in that takes one straight through the best of the wildflower meadows.  Although a popular trail, the price of admission is high.  One must travel an ugly pothole-ridden gravel road to reach the trailhead.

The paintbrush was going strong

But Ed's Trail is without doubt my favorite place on Silver Star Mountain.  I convinced John and Young this was where we should go.  Only one problem - I wasn't 100 percent sure how to get there.  Two years had passed since I'd been to Ed's trail, and on that trip someone else did the driving.  Last time John and Young had tried to reach Ed's Trail, they'd gotten lost.  We had the directions in our Sullivan hiking book - surely we couldn't go wrong with that.  With book in hand, and John driving, we entered the maze of gravel forest service roads.

Snack break on a talus slope

John's truck bounced along on the awful pothole-filled dirt road.  We drove for what seemed like eons.  Hardly any of the roads were marked, making navigation extremely difficult.  Young directed John down one gravel lane, and after traveling for 10 minutes with no trailhead in sight, we were forced to backtrack.  Jolting along another unnamed road, my friends and I kept thinking our destination was "just around the next bend."  But after rounding nearly 15 bends, it became apparent we'd missed a turn somewhere.

The wonderful view

Both Young and I needed a bathroom break badly, and bumping along on this terrible road wasn't helping matters.  Finally, John pulled over and we ladies both ducked into the bushes.  I then pulled out my Forest Service map, which was tucked away in my backpack in the pickup bed (heaven forbid I keep it up in the cab with me so we could navigate!)

Technicolor hillside

About this time a car came creeping by.  We flagged it down and asked the guys inside how to get to Ed's Trail.  They chuckled and said "Ed's Trail?  It's back down that road about nine miles.  You're about a mile away from the Bluff Mountain trail."  Consulting my map, I quickly located our current position.  Sure enough - Bluff Mtn trailhead wasn't far.  Where did we go wrong?

Path through the flowers

After traveling such a long distance down this crappy road, and wasting almost two hours, John was not ready to do any more driving (not that I blame him!).  He suggested we follow the men in the car and hike the Bluff Mountain Trail instead.  I grudgingly agreed, though secretly disappointed.  I'd had my heart set on a trip through Ed's Trail.

Lots of Mt. Hood views

I'd hiked the Bluff Mountain trail once before several years ago.  Although I remembered it was a beautiful flower-filled path, I also recalled a long trek to Silver Star.  I think the round-trip distance was something like 14 or 15 miles.  That's a long distance for a day hike (for me anyway).  But John and Young had never been here, and were excited to try out a new trail.  Besides John told me, it wasn't like we had to go all the way to Silver Star Mountain.  Our group could turn around whenever we wanted.

Path through another talus slope

From the trailhead, the first two miles of the Bluff Mtn Trail follow an old road that hugs the top of a ridge. The lack of trees meant there were views from the very start. My companions quickly spotted Mt. Adams snowy summit, and a short time later, Mt. Hood started to make its appearance. Right before the road transitioned into trail, it dived down a steep, steep hill. Young and I both groaned knowing this wasn't gonna be fun to climb on our return.

Looking ahead to Silver Star Mtn

The flowers began to show themselves in open meadows along the road. Bright orange paintbrush flourished in large patches. Young spotted a nice patch of beargrass further on, with a bonus view of Mt. St. Helens. But the floral parade really got going once we left the road and started down the trail proper. The hillsides were a kaleidoscope of color. Paintbrush, lupine, beargrass, penstemon, and a ton of yellow flowers I couldn't identify decorated the open slopes.

Weather beaten trail sign

 Because trees were scarce this hike afforded continuous views of the surrounding hills and mountains. From the road, the trail traverses the side of Bluff Mountain, winds across pointy-topped Little Baldy, finally following the crest of a rocky ridgeline until it intersects with Silver Star's steep slopes. The panorama of bare peaks and forested valleys was impressive.  Little Baldy's pyramid top acted like a beacon, providing a landmark. Once we crossed Little Baldy, Silver Star Mountain's twin summits guided us on. The horizon was always dotted with one or more white-capped Cascade peaks - Hood, Adams, St. Helens, and even a fuzzy Mt. Rainer. John amazed us all by spotting the Columbia River from one vantage point.

I found a few tiger lilies

The only bad thing about hiking on an open ridge line was the lack of shade. Summer finally arrived in the PNW, and it came with a vengeance. Temps were climbing into the high 80s by afternoon. Now to the rest of the country that's been stuck in a heat wave, high 80's probably doesn't seem very hot. But to us Northwesterners who've endured a cool, wet spring, it might as well have been 100 degrees. Not used to hiking in the blazing sun, a little more shade would've been helpful. But we sucked down more water and soldiered on.

Marching through the wildflowers

I enjoy hiking with Young. She loves to take pictures as much as I do. With so much wonderful photographic material available, forward progress slowed to a crawl. Poor John. He did a lot of standing around waiting for us. But he was super-patient!

Paintbrush lines the trail

The trail wound around the side of Bluff Mountain, through a short forested area (with heavenly shade!) and then back out in the bright sun onto Little Baldy's open talus slopes. The rocks seemed to only help intensify the temperature. But the wonderful scenery made it all bearable.

Beargrass close up

Another great thing about the Bluff Mountain trail, we didn't encounter many other people. The long bumpy drive to its trailhead naturally weeds away all but the most determined hikers (well, and those of us who get lost on the way to another place!) We leapfrogged with a group of three men (the same people in the car we'd earlier asked directions from) and met a couple of very unprepared groups on our way back, but that was it. In comparison, when the flowers are out, Ed's Trail is usually crawling with people. It was nice to enjoy the flower fields and views without hordes of hikers.

Hood was always over our shoulder

The heat and frequent photo stops dug into our hiking time, and before I knew it my watch read three o'clock and we were still over a mile from Silver Star's summit. John's gps said we'd traveled almost six miles. Knowing we'd have to cover this same distance to get back, we made a group decision to turn around before it got too late. Silver Star would have to wait for another day.

My hiking companions

So back we trudged in the heat, through the talus, the wildflower fields, the wonderful shady woods, until we reached that long rocky old road. And the hill. As Young and I predicted, climbing that hill in the hot sun at the end of a long hike was not fun. The road seemed to go on forever. All I could think about was the promise of a cold microbrew when we finally reached civilization.

Incredible view for an incredible day

But as we headed back to John's truck, the group deemed this a wildly successful hike.  My friends were really impressed with the trail. They liked the wide open views and the thick concentration of wildflowers. And due to Bluff Mtn's remote location, we nearly had the place to ourselves.  All the amenities of Ed's Trail without the crowds. Sometimes getting lost can be a good thing!


  1. Goodness is it so green and beautiful there! I am loving all the flowers you shared and the view of St Helens. What an amazing place to get to hike.

  2. Goodness is it so green and beautiful there! I am loving all the flowers you shared and the view of St Helens. What an amazing place to get to hike.

  3. Wow amazing trail. The views are priceless

  4. Wow! So envious of your "incredible views on an incredible day" with incredible wildflowers and incredible snowcapped peaks. Yet again, amazing to hitch a ride with you!

  5. Oh my how gorgeous. I love the Lupine. My favorite wildflower.

  6. Gorgeous set of photos, and you're right--they must be seen upsize. So glad you got lost.

  7. What a wonderful hike you've taken us on. I lived near Vancouver many years ago but had very small children in those days and hiking certainly wasn't on my radar. I would love to return someday for a long visit and get to some of those trails :)


  8. What a beautiful adventure you had. Some of my most fun times have been when I have been lost. Love all of the wild flowers. Hubby and I love to hike but I have torn my meniscus and haven't done much of it this summer. This post sure makes me miss the adventure. One thing about nature, when Mother Nature calls one must answer. lol! Visiting from Sunny Simple Sunday.

  9. Photos are beautiful. How wonderful it must be to go hiking in such a lovely spot. I love all of the wildflowers and ie was of Mt Hood.

    Yael from Home Garden Diggers

  10. Your pictures do that beautiful scenery justice. I love seeing the snow-capped peak in the background so often. Your commentary made looking at the pictures all the more enjoyable. Ann

  11. Wow! What stunning pictures! It looks like a gorgeous place!

  12. Ahhhh....The Pacific Northwest is so incredibly beautiful. I live in Bend, Oregon and am blessed with a grand view of the majestic mountains.
    Your hike was a bit of heaven...all the wildflowers and the heavenly views!
    Thanks for letting me tag along!
    Simple Sunday Smiles (via Elaine)...

  13. I like to look at the thumbnail photos each Sunday at sunny simple and try to pick out yours. So far I've been guessing right each week. Another stunning hike, great story and fab photos.

  14. Wow, fabulous photos. The wildflowers are amazing up there.

  15. Beautiful! We visited Washington a couple years ago, and just loved it. Seeing the snow capped mountains in the background makes me want to move westward!

  16. These are beautiful! I have not ever been there, but may have to add it to my Bucket List! You did a great job photographing it... thanks for sharing!

    Hope you can stop by and say hello at my blog!
    "Like" Hood Photography on Facebook!


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