|Vine maple leaves in peak color|
John wanted to explore a new place - the Fifteenmile Trail. Located east of Mt. Hood, this trail offered a traverse across a canyon's rim, amazing views, and a sampling of different vegetative zones. However, after sending out his initial email, John had to issue a clarification - the hike itself was not 15 miles - it was only the trail's name. He planned to travel a shorter 10.5 mile loop with about 2000 feet of elevation gain.
|Golden ferns line the trail|
After a very wet end to September, the weather gods redeemed themselves, giving us a beautiful warm, rain-free October. The weather that day was forecast to be sunny and dry. Imagine our surprise, when traveling east through the Gorge, our party encountered cloudy, misty skies. It didn't get any better on the drive past Mt. Hood. When we finally pulled into the trailhead, at the Fifteenmile Campground, the sky was cloaked in heavy fog, and the temperature was a chilly 34 degrees.
|John pauses on the bridge for a photo op|
Besides John, my hiking companions for the day were Jon, Steve, and George - all retired guys. I was the lone working stiff playing hooky from my job. We all bundled up against the cold temps, and seeing hunters parked along the road nearby, donned our orange clothing items.
|Top of the ridge, Cedar Creek Trail side|
From the campground, we headed east briefly following the Fifteenmile Trail. It wasn't long
before we encountered the first junction between the Fifteenmile and Cedar Creek Trails. The Fifteenmile Trail followed the north side of a canyon, while the Cedar Creek Trail followed the south side. John's plan was to hike east along the Cedar Creek Trail, cross Fifteenmile Creek, and head back along the canyon's opposite rim.
|Multicolored vine maple|
Fall colors started immediately from the trailhead. I hadn't gone 10 steps before my camera was out, capturing the lovely yellow hues on the forest floor. First, our path was lined with golden ferns, and as we hit the first junction, the forest floor was bright with yellow leaves from various bushes.
|Checking out a big ponderosa poine|
Crossing Fifteenmile Creek on a cute little footbridge, the guys and I climbed up the opposite bank and topped out on the ridge. Ponderosa pines dominated the forest here, with bright orange and red huckleberry bushes adding some color. A rocky clearing provided a nice view of the canyon below.
Meandering along the ridgetop, my fellow hikers and I marveled at the difference in the forests east of the Cascades. Instead of thick Douglas firs, Ponderosa pines dominated the landscape. The forest was much more open. And there were lots more large rocky outcrops rising out of the ground. We even saw a tree growing in around some rocks!
|We begin our descent into the canyon|
After traversing the ridgetop for awhile, our trail began to wind steeply downhill, down to the banks of Fifteenmile Creek. The skies cleared briefly, and I even saw a glimpse of the sun for a moment. Perfect timing, as the views toward eastern Oregon were very nice indeed.
|Gotta have at least one trail sign picture!|
As my group descended, we traveled through different vegetative zones. Starting with Ponderosa pines and Manzanita bushes, we passed an area with an abundance of vine maple. The bright yellow and reds of the vine maple's leaves caused me to take many photo breaks, and I lagged behind my companions.
|This campsite made a perfect lunch spot|
I finally caught up to the men at Fifteenmile Creek. Another cute log footbridge provided an easy crossing. The creek itself was an absolute delight - lined by bunches of yellow vine maple and golden ferns. A campsite on the opposite shore provided the perfect spot for a lunch break.
|Tunnel of yellow|
At lunch, John made a confession. He told me after looking over his map, the loop we were hiking was actually about 11.2 miles, instead of the 10.5 he'd promised. Because he's fun to tease, I gave John a hard time about his miscalculation, but really an extra half mile or so wasn't a big deal. The trail had been great so far.
|One of the many mushrooms|
And after lunch, it got even better. Our lunch spot was located right at the junction of the Cedar Creek and Fifteenmile Trails - our appointed turn-around. Now we just had to follow the Fifteenmile Trail back to the trailhead. The only catch - since we'd traveled downhill nearly 2000 feet to reach the creek, our group would have to regain all that elevation on our return.
|Yellow engulfs this tree|
But there was tons of brilliant yellow foliage and a forest full of cool mushrooms to distract us from our climb.
|Photo op line-up|
The guys were all into mushroom hunting, and they spotted tons of interesting fungi along the Fifteenmile Trail. A particularly unusual specimen had them lining up with cameras in hand. I, however, had more fun getting shots of the photographers.
|Jumpin' across the stream|
We crossed a cute creek, lined with huge old cedar trees.
|The woods were ablaze with bright yellow leaves|
Vine maple bushes grew everywhere, their brilliant yellow and red leaves brightening up the forest. Some places it was so thick, I felt as if we were walking through a golden tunnel. Fall colors appeared to be at their peak.
|Walking under the yellow canopy|
The uphill trek had all of us stripping down to our base layers. Even though there was still a slight chill in the air, I sweated profusely.
|Rest break on the rocks|
We took a break at one clearing situated on the edge of a cliff. Although the skies had clouded back over, I could still look down the valley of Fifteenmile Creek, towards the plains of eastern Oregon. Felt like I was on top of the world!
|Colorful lime green lichen|
Many trees along the trail were covered with bright, lime-green lichen. (After mistakenly calling it "moss", Jon who had just taken a lichen identification class the past weekend, quickly corrected me) I'd never seen such thick, fluffy lichen on tree branches and trunks. Quite unusual.
|Me 'n the guys|
Our sweat cooling in the chilly air, we kept our breaks brief.
|Even the huckleberry leaves got in on the action|
Of course, these lovely red-orange huckleberry leaves also caught my eye, and again my companions left me in the dust.
|Capturing some tiny mushrooms on a tree trunk|
But, distracted by some tiny mushrooms growing on a tree, I soon caught up to them.
|Gorgeous Fifteenmile Creek|
The very best part of the hike was the final two miles. Our trail paralleled Fifteenmile Creek. Along its banks was the most beautiful display of fall finery. It was a colorful mixture of greens, yellows, and golden browns. The creek's clear waters burbled in the middle of this wonderful autumn show.
|Amazing fall colors line the creek|
Back at the trailhead, John's gps registered a total of 12 miles traveled. Hmmmm.......so much for 10.5 or 11.2 miles! I gave John a hard time for being a trail stretcher. But I really didn't mind. This trail was so spectacular I would've hiked it for 15 miles.
A trip to nearby Hood River for some pizza and beer capped a perfect hike. Thanks to John, I'd discovered an outstanding fall trail. Skipping work to go hiking was the right decision. Perfect use of a vacation day!
(But John, if you keep sending me mid-week hike invitations for places like this, I won't have any vacation hours left....)
Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot.