Monday, October 29, 2012

Coldwater Lake

The weather-guessers predicted last Thursday to be the only dry day all week.  Seeing an opportunity for a rain-free hike, I promptly took the day off work.  I'd been wanting to do a hike from Mt. St. Helen's Johnston Ridge Observatory.  This would probably be my last chance before the snow came.

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Snow at Johnston Ridge

Well....Mother Nature beat me.  Driving up to Johnston Ridge that morning, I began to see small collections of snow lining the roadside.  By the time I'd pulled into the parking lot, there was almost a foot of wet, mushy snow on the ground.  I wasn't about to hike through this stuff (although, if I'd brought my skis......)  Not only that, but a thick layer of clouds and fog prevented any views of the famous volcano.  Did I burn a vacation day for nothing?

No views here today

Of course not!  I always have an alternate hike in my back pocket.  Plan B was to check out the trails at nearby Coldwater Lake.  Over a thousand feet lower than Johnston Ridge, it's shores were still snow-free.  Amazing the difference a little elevation makes!

View from Coldwater Lake trailhead

Coldwater Lake was formed during the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.  When MSH's summit blew to the north, it initiated a huge landslide, damming Coldwater Creek.  This created a narrow 4-mile long lake, and flattened trees on the nearby hills for miles.

A glimpse of blue sky

But, over thirty years later, vegetation has firmly re-established itself.  Parking at Coldwater Lake's boat dock, I could see hillsides thickly covered with a variety of trees and shrubs, many showing their best autumn colors.  

Bright red leaves at water's edge

My trail of choice began at the boat dock.  There are a few different paths in this vicinity, and I decided upon one that followed Coldwater Lake's northern shoreline.  Beginning at the western end, the Lakes Trail leads hikers along this water body's entire length.  A trek of almost 4.5 miles one way, it provides views from many perspectives.

Colorful trees brighten the hillside

Although the day began cold and overcast, I'd barely left the trailhead when rays of sunshine began peeking through cloud gaps.  A half mile into the hike, I was already shedding layers.

Cloud reflections on Coldwater Lake

My view to the east was lovely.  I could see a snow-topped mountain beginning to emerge from the fog.  The northern lakeshore was speckled with colorful vegetation, sporting many hues of gold, yellow and orange.  The unexpected sunshine lit it up beautifully.

Multicolored leaves

I was the only hiker on the trail this day.  The woods and  lake were silent, save for an occasional bird call.  I trudged slowly along, making frequent photo documentation stops.

Mountain reflections

After a mile, I came upon a peninsula jutting out into the lake.  Looking back towards the boat dock showed a clearing blue sky with occasional glimpses of the western mountain range.  The clouds and mountains made perfect reflections in the lake's still waters.  A Kodak moment if there ever was one!

Tea and cookie break!

Continuing past the peninsula, my trail crossed a small waterfall gushing through a rocky channel.  A rumbling stomach suggested this was a good spot for a lunch break.  After first downing my sandwich, it was time to enjoy some tea and cookies (staples for fall hikes, don't you think?)

Nice trailside fall colors

My tummy filled, I continued eastward, following the path as it dipped up and down, ducking into small coves and ambling across tiny streamlets.  I began to see tons of animal scat, mostly from elk.  Mixed in with the poo were lots of animal tracks.  The critters were doing just fine!

Then, up ahead I saw a large gravelly fan, a remnant of many rockslides.  Crossing the adjacent heavily treed creek, I was startled by a loud crashing sound.  I looked up to see an elk running through the brush about 100 yards away.


A wildlife sighting!  Hastily I crossed the creek and headed out into the open, gravel plain.  There I saw another elk trotting out of the forest, joining her friend.  I quickly grabbed my camera and fired a couple shots.  But my wide angle lens was no match for wildlife close-ups.  Quickly, I grabbed my zoom lens out of the pack and made a fast switch.  As I was swapping lenses, two more elk, one a bull with a huge rack, sauntered out of the brush and began climbing an adjacent slope.

Spectacular views on the lake's east end

My zoom lens in place, I was able to get a few better elk photos.  Two cows stopped briefly and snacked some brushy trees.  It was almost as if they were posing.  But when I tried to move closer, they turned tail and disappeared into the forest.

Still, it was a thrill to see a small herd of these magnificent animals in the wild.  Definitely a highlight of my day!

More wonderful alpine views

There was more good stuff yet to come.  I was now close to the lake's eastern end.  Impressive, snow-capped mountains rose up from the shore.  It was an alpine view worthy of The Sound of Music.  The nearest mountain was most colorful.  White snow covered it's top third, while bushes of orange, rust and brown dotted the lower slopes.  Mixed in with the bushes were a few remaining green trees, and a mosaic of downed logs leftover from the long-ago eruption.

Fall colors dot the mountainside

The trail passed under this great mountain's shadow, as I rounded the far eastern shore.  Past sandy beaches full of elk hoofprints and poo piles.  Through a marshy wooded area, complete with a beaver dam.  Up a forested slope, ducking under a couple fallen trees.

Snow-speckled peak

The Lakes trail ended at a junction.  One path took hikers to Snow Lake and the Mt. Margaret backcountry.  The other, climbed steeply up the mountainside to Coldwater Peak.  I detoured down the latter trail for a short distance to see what my hiking book described as a "spectacular footbridge in a rocky gorge."

The bridge marks my turnaround point

Yes, the footbridge was pretty impressive.  Not so much the bridge itself, but its wonderful setting.  The colorful mountain rose above.  A lovely stream gushed through boulders far below.  Huge rock walls anchored the bridge on one side.  Coldwater Lake sparkled in the distance.  Break spots don't get much better!

Bridge photo op

Two-thirty was my turn-around time.  I reached the bridge with 10 minutes to spare.  Enough time for a quick snack and photo session.  Then I turned around and hoofed the 4.5 mile distance back to my car.

Tree wearing it's best autumn colors

Returning along the lake's shoreline path, I didn't take many photo stops.  I already had a memory card full of great shots, and the sunlight was now coming from the wrong direction.  Plus, there was a long drive back home once I reached my car.  Still, as I passed by the gravel bar I kept my eyes peeled, hoping for another elk sighting.  That I would stop for.

MSH makes an appearance

Sadly, the elk were nowhere to be found.  But nearing the trailhead, I experienced a sighting of a different sort, which provided a great end to my day.  That morning, the southern horizon had been under heavy clouds and fog, preventing any chance for views.  Now approaching the boat dock under clear skies, I began to see what I'd missed. Noticing a gleaming mountain rising over the southern shore, I stopped to observe.  It was Mt. St. Helens!  And she was beautiful!  The mountain was cloaked in a dazzling white blanket of snow, which the sun's final rays illuminated brilliantly.  I'd traveled up here to see the mountain, and didn't get skunked!  At the end of the day, finally rewarded with a glimpse of the famous volcano.

Despite the snow changing my plans, I switched gears and had a great day of hiking after all.  You just can't beat a visit to Mt. St. Helens.  There's always something amazing to see.  That's why I keep coming back.

Linking to:  This or That Thursday and Weekend Reflections.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Quick Trip to Silver Falls

Last Sunday, I made a trip to Mt Angel to visit my son Cody.  Mt. Angel is not far from Silver Falls State Park.  Silver Falls is a breathtakingly beautiful place, featuring forested canyons, and ten - count 'em - ten spectacular waterfalls.  Anticipating there might be some fall color in the area by now, I made a last-minute decision to throw my camera gear in the car.

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Upper North Falls

I had a nice, long visit with Cody.  So long in fact, when I left Mt. Angel, it was late in the afternoon, and I almost headed for home.  But with Silver Falls State Park so close, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to check it out, even if I only had a couple of hours.

Upper North Falls supersized

And I'm so glad I did!  The fall colors were in full swing.  Bright yellow and orange leaves lit up the forest.   I stopped at the first parking area, and took the short path to Upper North Falls.

Nice fall colors in the creek below

Upper North Falls is located in a very scenic rocky canyon.  This past week's rainfall had it gushing mightily.  It's foamy white curtain made a nice compliment to the surrounding forest.

The forest is ablaze

A short path to the falls followed a lovely creek.  This waterway was lined with golden yellow foliage.  Photographic subjects abounded!

Brilliant creekside colors

I ended up visiting only Upper North Falls, and spent a couple of happy hours photographing the scenic rushing water and magnificent fall colors.  The sun was almost down, with darkness filling the canyon, when I finally arrived back at my car.

But my work here is not done.  I'll be back next weekend, rain or shine, to capture more fall colors, and the rest of the waterfalls.

Linking to:  Sunny Simple Sunday.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tamanawas Falls

Yahoo!  A Friday off from work!  Time for some hiking.

But.....the weatherman predicted rain, AND dummy me scheduled a hair appointment for that very morning (what was I thinking??)  No matter, despite rain and obligations, I was determined to get outside.  The grand plan was to leave right after my appointment, and pack raingear (after last weekend's wet trek, I'm fast becoming a rainy hiking expert).

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Obligatory trail sign photo

With limited time, I needed to pick a short trail.  Figuring the east side of Mt. Hood might be a little bit drier, I chose the Tamanawas Falls Trail.  Fall colors were likely peaking here, and this short trail packs a lot of scenery in two short miles.  Following cute, burbling Cold Spring Creek, it meanders through scenic woods, past a recent rockslide, to an amazing waterfall at canyon's end.

Second bridge crossing

The word Tamanawas means "friendly guardian spirit" in the language of the Northwest Native Americans.  I'm not quite sure how one pronounces this name (but if you can, try and say it three times fast!)

Bear poses by the footbridge

It was almost noon when I finally hit the road.  Intermittent rain speckled my windshield throughout the drive.  But rounding the Northeast corner of Mt. Hood about 5 miles from the trailhead, something wonderful happened.  The sun came out.  By the time I pulled into the parking area, blue sky was fast replacing clouds.  Wow!  This was unexpected!  (But most welcome)

Rare sunlight on the leaves

Bear and I struck out on the trail.  From the parking lot, it immediately crossed the East Fork of the Hood River on a marvelous log footbridge.  Then the path climbed through dense forest, accented by bright yellow fall leaves.  Paralleling Highway 35 for the first half mile, vegetation breaks gave way to brief glimpses of the road and it's massive rock slope.

Tunnel of yellow

Then the trail led away from the road, winding down through more forest to a second footbridge spanning Cold Spring Creek.  A stunningly scenic spot, I paused to capture images of the bridge and creek.  Mossy green boulders broke through churning water.  Fallen leaves and brown needles littered the bank.  More golden yellow trees peeped from behind the bridge span. 

Lovely yellow forest accents

After crossing over the second footbridge, the path continued on, following Cold Spring Creek.  We came upon an area dominated by yellow-leaved trees.  They hung over the trail, almost enclosing our path.  It was like being in a bright yellow tunnel.

Mossy rocks in Cold Spring Creek

Fall colors and small river rapids made for frequent photo breaks.  As per my usual, progress was slow.  But having all afternoon to hike a short distance freed me up to stop whenever something photogenic caught my eye.  (And, as you can imagine, there was lots that did!)

Another scenic creek photo

Although yellow was the dominant fall color here, I did discover an area of unusual plants with leaves of bright red.  I'm bad at plant names, so no guesses as to what it might be.  Made for nice photographs, though!

Vibrant red leaves

Nearing the falls, the canyon walls narrowed and my trail snaked through a debris field from a recent landslide.  I'm unsure exactly when this event happened, but I'm told it was within the last few years. It must've been enormous.  The debris field was at least 0.2 of a mile long, and extended almost one hundred feet upwards from the creek.  Looking above the trail you could see a massive cliff where the rocks cleaved from.  Down in the creek, I spotted the remains of an old footbridge swept away with the slide.  The awesome power of nature!

Base of the huge rockslide

After traversing the rockslide, the trail dived back into the forest for a short stretch.  And then up ahead, the rock walls parted, and there at the canyon's end was the waterfall I sought.

The falls makes an appearance at canyon's end

Tamanawas Falls!  The steep basalt walls and yellow/green foliage made for a beautiful setting.  I set up my tripod and got to work.

The rocky amphitheater makes a good backdrop

After making a few images from afar, I traveled closer to the waterfall's lacy cascade.  The delicate white curtain looked even better up close.   Rainfall from the previous week swelled it's volume, and water thundered over the canyon wall.  This impressive falls was tall - measuring 100 feet in height.

Creek-level view

Wading through a small creeklet got me as close to the waterfall's base as I dared.  The rocks were super-slippery, and I didn't want to risk a fall.  I love this last image, looking creek-level to the cascade's base.  It was a magical place.  After making a few more images, I just sat on a rock enjoying the scenery.

Fallen leaves

But the time was getting late, and I could see clouds gathering in the sky.  Not wanting to get caught in the rain, I packed up and  headed towards the car.  Upon arriving back at the trailhead, I no sooner got my boots off, when droplets began to fall.  What timing!  I drove home in a downpour - not much fun, but better than hiking in it.

I'm glad I carved out some time on my day off to get out on the trail.  Fall only gives us a very small window to enjoy the colors, before winter's drab gloom sets in. 

Linking to:  Share Your Cup Thursday.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Gallery 26 of the 52 Photos Project is up and awaiting your images!  This week's prompt is golden.

Hmmmm......golden.....I pondered my photographic options.  This time of year, there's lots of golden leaves flying around.  But that's just too obvious.  Then I remembered I'd recently earned something golden of my very own.

My lovely finisher's medal

In my haste to get out a post on my Portland Marathon experience, I'd neglected to include a photo of the finisher's medal.  In the many races I've run, this is hands-down the most beautiful medal of them all.  It's heavy-duty, with a lovely etching of a rose on the front (Portland is the "City of Roses"). 

Back view

The backside is even more special to me.  It has an accurate rendition of Mt. Hood (my favorite mountain) and Timberline Lodge.  There's nothing I love more than spending a day up on Hood, be it skiing or hiking.  And T-line Lodge is such a beautifully constructed building in a fantastic setting.  Because 2012 is the 75th anniversary of the opening of Timberline Lodge, I thought it wonderfully fitting to include this Oregon landmark on the reverse side.

Not only is this medal a lovely shade of gold - having it around my neck reminds me of my huge accomplishment.  I might not have been the fastest runner, but I did finish the entire 26.2 miles.  I'm as proud as an Olympic athlete. 

I too, am golden.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Rainy Day in Indian Heaven

I hadn't been hiking in over a month.  Running and marathon prep dominated my entire September.  During this same time, the PNW experienced fantastic fall weather - warm and sunny, with no rain in sight.  Perfect for hiking!  More than ready to enjoy fall colors under October's dry sunshine, I looked forward to getting the race over with.  I was itching to return to the trails.

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Wilderness area sign

But the weather gods have a twisted sense of humor.  The Friday following my marathon, after weeks of dry weather, it began to rain.  The entire weekend was predicted to be wet.  All my hiking plans got washed away, like fall leaves in the gutter.  What's a girl to do?

Go hiking anyway.

Fall colors from the very start!

In desperate need of an outdoor fix, I was willing to trek in any weather.  Saturday morning, after hemming and hawing trying to decide where to go (looking for maximum fall colors while trying to avoid hunters) I finally settled upon the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  I'd heard reports of amazing vegetative color in this area.  And I'd been hankering to get up there all summer.  Now was my chance!

Droplets glitter on wet leaves

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in Southwestern Washington, between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens.  It's a scenic high plateau, dotted with alpine meadows, small lakes, and huckleberry bushes a-plenty.  A popular place for backpacking and huckleberry picking, this forested wilderness is a busy place in late summer.  But on a rainy October day, I'd have it all to myself.

The forest floor ablaze with yellow

I threw all my raingear, and two large hefty garbage bags into my car.  And against my better judgement, ended up taking Bear (couldn't resist those doggy eyes!)  I packed a couple of towels and a blanket, hoping to at least attempt to dry the dog off  before allowing him back in the vehicle.

One last huckleberry

It's a long drive to the trailhead, but I was so happy to finally go hiking I didn't care.  Besides, the forests outside Carson, WA were an amazing show of fall finery.  I was enjoying the scenery so much, it didn't register that I was also seeing lots of pickup trucks carrying men dressed in orange.

Golden reflections on Dee Lake

I arrived at the Thomas Lake Trailhead, only the third vehicle in its spacious parking lot.  Upon arrival, the intermittent mist that had been falling throughout my drive turned into fat raindrops.  Outfitting myself in full raingear, I put one of the Hefty bags to use as a pack cover.  Bear, however, was on his own.

Will you quit taking pictures and just hike?

From the very start, the Thomas Lake Trail was everything I'd hoped.  Bright red huckleberry bushes lit up the forest.  Yellow foliage added accents.  The water droplets on the leaves sparkled like diamonds, and my camera, which I'd carefully packed in a plastic bag, immediately came out.

Gorgeous meadow

My camera didn't stay in the bag for long.  A little further down the trail I came upon a forest floor completely covered with bright yellow bushes.  A fantastic display, there was no way I was missing this.  Although the skies were dark and foggy, the lack of shadow made for some good photographic conditions.  The bright colors seem to pop out of the gloom.

Rain-jeweled leaves

But the best was yet to come.  After 0.7 of a mile, I came upon the first two tiny lakes, Dee and Thomas.  The path squeezed between the lakes was lined with orange and red huckleberry bushes.  After uncovering the camera for more wet shots, I decided to explore Dee Lake's shoreline.

Colorful hues in the meadow grass

One side of this lake was rimmed with yellow and gold bushes, their colors reflecting in the still waters.  Fabulous!  I positioned my tripod on the muddy shore and fired away.

Golden-rimmed pond

Leaving these lovely lakes, I continued on my quest.  The trail began to climb, and my legs, still recovering from last week's marathon, protested.  I slowed my pace and inched along.  At the top of the hill I was surprised to see a couple of hunters, dressed in orange and toting rifles, heading my way.

This shoreline is ablaze

Since I was hiking in a wilderness area, I mistakenly thought hunting wasn't allowed here.  Obviously this was not the case.  Stopping to chat with the men, I learned they were deer hunting.  They hadn't spotted a deer all day, and were heading back to camp.  One of the hunters advised me to wear orange, and when he saw I didn't have any, gave me one of his extra orange vests to wear.  What a nice guy!  I was extremely grateful for his kindness.   

Kaleidoscope of color

Not far from the hunter encounter, I came across an incredibly lovely alpine meadow.  The fall colors were in full swing.  The meadow grasses were a rich golden color, the heather bright red, and its perimeter rimmed with red and orange huckleberry bushes. The foggy woods gave the place a surreal feeling.

Brilliant colors circle the lake

A short distance from the meadow, I spotted a small pond a little ways off the trail.  Like most of the water bodies, it was encircled with brilliant fall colors.  But these colors seemed more vibrant.  And they were reflecting nicely in the water.  Determined to photograph this scene, I searched for a trail to access the lake.  Not finding one, I bushwhacked through wet bushes to reach its shore.  The cross-country trip was worth it - I found the pond a charming little place.

The trail winds through more fall colors

Leaving the pond, and continuing on the trail, I ran into another hunter.  He was also a very nice man, and we chatted for a couple of minutes while he petted Bear.  After leaving this hunter, I came upon a large meadow with the best colors yet.  It was jaw-droppingly beautiful!

Follow the red and yellow-lined path

Of course, about this time the rain began in earnest.  Large fat drops pounded down, making photography all but impossible.  I tried my best, wiping off the camera and shoving into my jacket between shoots.  I did manage to get a couple of good photos, which are the last three in this post. 

But I was getting tired and cold, and although my raingear kept me dry, it was sopping wet and clammy.  Bear has a thick fur coat, but he was absolutely soaked.  And the rain didn't look like it would let up anytime soon.  Time to head back.

Wet but beautiful

Back at my car, I peeled off wet layers and threw them in a garbage bag.  I tried my best to dry off Bear, but finally gave up, and let him in the car.  I drove home through heavy rain, accompanied by the lovely aroma of wet dog.

Had I been hiking regularly last month, I probably would've passed on this weekend. But hungry for an outdoor fix, I took the plunge and was rewarded.  It was great to be on the trail once again, and foul weather just added to the adventure.  There's another level of beauty when you're in the woods on a drizzly fall day.  You just have to get wet to find it.

Linking to: Share Your Cup Thursday, This or That Thursday and Sunny Simple Sunday.