|Fireweed along the road|
I had a Friday off and yearned to hike one of Sullivan's 100 trails on my ever-shrinking list. The climb to Whetstone Mountain was today's winner. Although the hike itself is not difficult (a mere 4.8 mile trek with 1100 feet of elevation gain), getting to the trailhead was. The remoteness of the area was the main reason I'd waited so long to check it off my list.
|This trailhead sign has seen better days|
The drive itself took nearly three hours. Not totally because of distance - accessing this trail required lots of bumping around on narrow, winding, gravel Forest Service roads. Not conducive to fast travel. The trailhead was in the middle of absolute nowhere - even farther than the Bagby Hot Springs parking area (I know because I drove right past it).
|Bear is ready to go!|
After passing Bagby, pavement quickly turned to gravel. Watching my odometer, I came upon an unmarked road at the correct mileage. Was this the way?
Taking a leap of faith, I turned down this narrow dirt track. It didn't take long to realize the road had not seen any maintenance for quite some time. Trees and brush became denser, and grew closer and closer to the gravel edge. I came to areas where there was barely room for my car to squeeze through their branches. It was a true tunnel of vegetation. Hmmmm........ more than once I hoped I wasn't lost!
|Huge old growth trees|
I hit a couple areas where water had completely washed out the roadbed, creating huge potholes. Gingerly, I steered my car through these bumps, praying it wouldn't bottom out. I came upon one intersection that I thought was my turnoff, only to travel a short distance into a dead end. No, it wasn't fun nor easy to turn my car around on that rocky, narrow "road" that dropped off on one side.
But things redeemed themselves in another mile when I came into a clearing chock-full of blooming fireweed. Needing a break to read my map and go potty, photographing their bright petals made a good excuse to stop. Then it was back on the road, resuming my hunt. Not far from the wonderful fireweed meadow, I finally found the last intersection, with - yahoo - a sign to the trailhead. Relief! A short distance, and more bouncing over potholes later, Bear and I arrived at our destination.
Being it was such a production to reach this far-flung place, I was surprised to see three other cars in the parking area. A lone man was loading his backpack, preparing to hit the trail. We exchanged hellos and compared notes on our eventful drives in. Then the guy took off, leaving me to get ready.
It was past 11 o'clock when my dog and I finally hit the trail. Since the Whetstone Mountain Trail is not very well-known, my expectations were low. But after a short downhill ramble, I came upon an incredibly beautiful old growth forest.
|Wilderness area sign|
The woods were full of amazingly large Douglas Firs. Big patches of huckleberry bushes covered the forest floor. Ferns, big and small grew prolifically. And I discovered a bunch of cool giant fungi stuck on the side of some trees.
|Bear quenches his thirst from a small pond|
The huckleberries appeared to be ripe, so I sampled as I went. Most of the berries were not quite ready and tasted sour. But once and awhile I'd get a sweet one, and that kept me picking and eating.
Huckleberries won't the only things ripening. Continuing my trek, I began to see bright orange and red salmonberries lining the trail. Although I think they're edible, having never tried them, I didn't want to take a chance. So instead of being eaten, these beautiful berries got a photo session.
The trail kept climbing, sometimes rather steeply. The day was becoming hot and humid, and I slogged along, hoping for the summit. (Shouldn't it be right around the bend?) On one of the switchbacks, I passed the man I'd seen earlier in the parking lot. He too commented that the climb seemed to be taking forever.
|Great vistas from Whetstone Mountain|
But a final switchback led me to Whetstone Mountain's bald, rocky summit. And, boy oh boy, what amazing views! The rumpled green hillsides of the surrounding Bull of the Woods Wilderness spread out before me. And a panorama of peaks lined the horizon in all directions. To the south, Mt. Jefferson and Olallie Butte, to the west, the hills of the Opal Creek basin, and to the east, a distant Mt. Hood. These wonderful vistas were totally unexpected from such a remote, unknown peak.
|Looking towards Mt. Hood|
Once a lookout tower location, all that remained were a couple of concrete foundation piers, with rusty bolts and nails sticking out. If nothing else, good photo subjects.
|Old lookout tower footing|
I eagerly unpacked my lunch. This would be a great spot to sit and enjoy my sandwich. But no sooner had we arrived when a cloud of large, biting flies descended upon my dog and I. Although they generally left me alone, those flies had it in for poor Bear. They swarmed his body, landing in a cloud on his back. Agitated, Bear kept shaking, moving around, and snapping his jaws at those pesky intruders.
|Mt. Hood is barely visible through the haze|
After five minutes, I realized we needed to leave. My poor dog was being eaten alive by flies. They were bothering him so much, Bear wasn't able to eat or drink. Reluctantly, I packed up my food, and led Bear off the summit.
|A few wildflowers still around|
Although the trip to the top of Whetstone Mountain was a long, uphill slog, my return was fast and easy. I zipped down the summit trail, past the salmonberries, until I found myself back at a little pond. Bear happily guzzled the pond water, while I busied myself taking photos of some gorgeous vine maple leaves, just beginning to change color.
|Fall colors are coming fast|
The rest of the return trip was uneventful. As I was nearing the parking area, I noticed clouds building through a forest clearing. Today's forecast of thunderstorms appeared to be right on. Guess it was a good thing Bear and I didn't dawdle on the summit.
|Thunderhead building over the road|
Of course, the only bad thing about driving a long distance on a bad road to reach your trail, is you must return the same way. So once again, I carefully wound my car through the brushy path, over the potholes, until finally reaching civilization in the form of pavement.
Another hike checked off in my book! This one, although short in distance, was a doozy to reach. And my poor car took a beating - once I got home, I noticed lots of paint scratches along the entire length of the body. Sigh - I apparently didn't avoid all the branches. Good thing my car is getting old, I guess.
But it was a fun adventure and, as always, great to be outside on a beautiful summer day.
Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot.