Friday, May 30, 2014

Dog Mountain

A favorite trail is like an old friend.  You've hiked it so many times you remember all it's junctions, steep climbs, panoramic viewpoints, and secret lunch spots. You know exactly when the wildflowers bloom each year.  Each visit evokes memories of past trips (the spot where I saw the grouse, the year it was so muddy I almost slid down the trail, the time I was nearly blown off the summit...)

Balsamroot good morning

Dog Mountain is one of those trails.  Located in Washington State on the Gorge's eastern fringe, each spring it's steep slopes erupt in a massive riot of wildflowers.  Truly a spectacular sight, people flock here in droves.

Two trail choices

Dog Mountain holds the record as my most often-hiked trail.  Starting in 1996, climbing it's steep slopes to view the flower show has been a spring tradition.

Lower viewpoint

However, for reasons I don't remember, last spring I missed the annual Dog Mountain trip,  Not wanting to make it two in a row, this year I was bound and determined to get up there during the bloom.  Busted rib or not!

Looking ahead to the summit

On a Friday off in early May, I left my house super-early, headed for Dog Mountain's trailhead.  The large parking lot, often packed to capacity during flower season, was totally empty when I arrived.  (It really does pay to wake up with the birds.)

Nature's bouquet

The trail, although short, is notoriously steep.  Rising almost 3000 feet in a mere 3 miles, it's a lung-busting trudge.

Gorge selfie at Puppy Point

But mentally I was prepared.  After babying my rib for the past three weeks, I was more than ready for a workout.  Beginning in a dense forest, the trail rises steeply from the very beginning.  It didn't take long before I was huffing and puffing.

The spectacular upper meadows

Exiting my car in the parking lot, I noticed the wind was really blowing.  Hmmmm......not a great sign.  If it was strong down low, that didn't bode well for the summit.  At the last minute, I grabbed a pair of mittens that just happened to be in my car and shoved them in my backpack.  Later, I'd be thankful I did.

Looking towards Wind Mountain

Hikers have a choice of three trails to reach Dog Mountain's upper slopes.  There are two older trails, dubbed the "scenic" and the "steep" (I love the sign at their junction that gives hikers the choice of "more difficult" or "less difficult").  There's also the Augspurger Mountain Trail, a longer, but more gentle path.  I prefer to travel the scenic trail uphill, and take Augspurger for my descent.

Floral frenzy

The "scenic" trail takes visitors through a lovely forest of fir and oak.  Undergrowth grows thickly, accented by colorful flowers.  After climbing for 1.5 miles, the path suddenly emerges at a treeless knob offering fantastic views up and down the Columbia River Gorge.  This halfway stop has been dubbed "Puppy Point" by the locals.

Colorful flower fields

It was here I encountered the first of the massive balsamroot fields.  Their cheery yellow blooms carpeted the adjacent slopes.   Time to break out the camera!

The only drawback - gusty winds had followed me from the parking lot, and had only gained in their intensity.  Sweat cooling, I quickly donned my jacket.

The upper meadow winds through a yellow carpet

After many attempts to capture these fields of color, the cold wind got the best of me.  Time to dive back into the woods, and head for Dog Mountain's summit.  The dense trees provided a welcome windbreak as I continued my trek to the top.

More flower fields

The final mile to the summit viewpoint is murderously steep.  Not for the faint of heart or weak of knees.  I kept putting on foot in front of the other, maintaining a pace that was turtle-slow.  But finally spying a clearing ahead, I knew it meant just one thing - Dog Mountain's wondrous upper meadows.

Wonderful views from on top

I'd hit the balsamroot at prime bloom.  The high meadows of Dog Mountain were one large carpet of yellow.  As I wandered out into the open taking in the spectacle, a large wind gust hit full force.

Nearly losing my hat, I quickly zipped up and pulled a hood over my head.  Then I slowly meandered along the upper trail, trying my best to capture this truly amazing sight.


But the strong winds buffeted the flowers around, making close up shots all but impossible.  I tried to wait for a break in the gusts, but holding my camera for this extended time only gave me very cold hands.  Body chilling fast, and rib starting to hurt, I retreated to a small wooded area just off the main trail.  This quick windbreak gave me a chance to find those mittens I'd stashed earlier, and take an ibuprofen or two.

Gorge overlook from Augspurger Trail

Hands now covered, and pain reliever coursing through my body, I made a second attempt at photographing the flower show.  But the wind was downright miserable.  I followed the trail, climbing through its treeless summit meadows, admiring the prolific blooms.  But the cold nasty gusts forced me to keep moving.  A short distance from the summit proper I came upon a junction for the Augspurger Trail.  Deciding this was not a good day to visit the very top, I opted to cut my visit short, and duck down this path.

One final Gorge view

The Augspurger Trail wound gently downhill, providing one last beautiful glimpse of the Gorge panorama and a classic view of Wind Mountain.  After a mile, it ducked back into the windbreak of thick woods - a welcome relief.

My return trip was uneventful, save for meeting many groups of hikers slowly trudging uphill.  It seemed the world had woke up, and by the time I reached my car, the parking lot was plumb full.  The early morning start meant I was back to my car by noon, just in time for a trip to the nearby town of Stevenson to enjoy a well-earned burger and fries.

Dog Mountain, it was great to see you again, my friend.  Until next year...

Sharing with:  Weekly Top Shot.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Walkin' the Hippie Chick

Being injured really sucks....

Starting line crowd from above

Especially when I'd won a free entry into the Hippie Chick Half Marathon.  This race has always been special to me.  Back in 2009, it was my very first half marathon.  When I ran it again the following year, it was my first sub 2-hour half.  (Recaps of these races can be found by clicking Hippie Chick 2009  and Hippie Chick 2010.) 

At the back of the pack....

But I broke my rib in a skiing accident two weeks before this year's Hippie Chick.  With race day approaching, I knew there was no way I'd be able to run 13.1 miles.  And even though I could probably walk the entire distance, it wouldn't be pretty.  Luckily, this event offers a quarter marathon option (which, if you're wondering, is a grand total of 6.55 miles).  I was fairly sure I could get through walking six and half miles with a busted rib.

Almost to the starting line

My neighbor and morning running partner Penny was also signed up for the quarter marathon.  Although Penny is usually the injured party of our duo, in today's race our roles were reversed.  Penny planned to run the quarter distance, while I'd be the walker.

This group had cute matching skirts

Saturday, May 10th dawned with typical spring weather - cloudy and cool.  Dark skies threatened rain.  But Penny and I donned our jackets - we're PNW runners after all.  We weren't gonna let a little rain stop us!

Loved these tie-dye shirts

Before the race, my friend and I lost each other, when Penny went to check her gear, and I made one last potty stop.  So I ended up at the starting line by myself.  Sadly, I shuffled towards the back of the pack to join the walkers.

Only mile one?

Walking instead of running a race was a first for me.  I really thought I'd be okay with it, but when the gun sounded and the crowd started out, I was immediately passed by tons of people.  Ladies much older than me trekked by like I was standing still.  Oh did the ego take a beating!

Beautiful tree lined street

But I had camera in hand, and moving at this slow pace, I could fully partake of the photo ops.  The Hippie Chick is an all-woman's race, and a very popular one.  Many ladies dress up in brightly colored gear for the occasion.  Tu-tus and tie-dye shirts were a common sight.  I spotted a few groups of walkers all decked out in matching t-shirts.  One group even sported cute matching skirts.

Struttin' through the countryside

It took an eternity before reaching mile one.  Used to being closer to the front of the pack, I was still trying to make the mental adjustment.  I snapped a photo of the mile marker sign, and decided I might as well capture each of the six signs along the way.  Why not?  I had time.

Mile two

The course started in a local football/baseball stadium.  After winding through a bunch of business parks, mile two found race participants cutting through an agricultural area.  It was a this point, the clouds began to lighten.  Maybe we'd luck out and miss the precip.

Penny looking strong

Not long after the mile two marker, I started seeing quarter marathon runners making their return trip.  Since this course was an out-and-back, I'd be able to see most of the participants.  I began to cheer the runners passing by.  Spotting Penny approaching, I gave her an especially loud woo-hoo (and took her picture!)  Although battling a sore knee, she was looking strong.

Return runners

The long line of runners and walkers wound through beautiful rural countryside.  The fields were all decked out in their best spring greenery.  And then - lo and behold - the sun actually peeked out of the clouds for a short spell!

Mile three!

I spied a couple of ladies posing for photos at the mile three marker.  I offered to take their picture, and they in turn took one of me. Yahoo - almost halfway!

Loved these huge trees

Although it turned out to be a nice day for a walk in the country, I was used to moving much faster.  This way taking way too long.....I yearned to run, even for a short distance.  But my injured rib kept reminding me this was not an option.

The sun came out for a bit

Just after the course turnaround point, I caught up and began to follow another lady.  She and I struck up a conversation and found we had some things in common.  We were both in our early 50s, both fighting injuries, and both had grown children. 

Mile four - still goin' strong

Having a companion to chat with really helped the final miles speed along.  The lady offered to take my photo at the mile 4 marker.  Although I did capture a shot of the mile 5 sign (which sadly was too poor quality to include here) we were so deep in conversation, I totally missed mile 6.

A sweet little girl was handing out licorice

Back to the industrial area, I knew the finish was getting close.  Spectators began to line the course, most cheering, some holding signs.  And there was one very sweet girl handing out licorice to participants.

This little guy made a drawing for his mom

There was also a cute little boy holding up a sign he'd made himself (I think it's supposed to be his mom running).

The finish line in sight

By now many of the half marathon racers began to pass us walkers.  These were the front of the pack runners, and boy, were they hauling! 

My debut on the jumbo-tron

But my companion and I continued on our swift walking.  Approaching the stadium entrance, volunteers cheered and directed us to the baseball field.  Just before the finish line, I looked up and saw myself on the stadium jumbo-tron.  Yes, I'm the one in blue holding up a camera!

There was chocolate!

After crossing the finish line, I realized Penny and I hadn't made any plans for meeting up after the race.  (And Penny had my car keys!)  There was already quite a large crowd gathered.  How would I find her?  It was dumb luck, that five minutes later, we practically ran into each other near the massage table.  Penny said she'd run strong until about mile 5, when her knee began to give her trouble.  She ended up walking most of the final mile.


We partook of the pancake breakfast, and Penny got a massage.  But best of all - we discovered one booth handing out full-size Ghirardelli chocolate bars.  Oh yeah!  Now that's what I call perfect race swag.

I survived walking my first (and hopefully only) running race.  Although a humbling experience, I ended up enjoying my time at the back of the pack.  And I've got a whole new appreciation for all you race walkers.

But...darn it rib, hurry up and heal!  I've got a fall marathon to start training for.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mosier Plateau

Rowena Crest and Tom McCall Point, east of Mosier, Oregon are my "go-to" places for spring wildflowers.  And I've explored the Columbia River Historic Highway just west of here.  But I've never spent any time in the town of Mosier itself.  A trip report on the Portland Hikers website changed all that.  It described a lovely little ramble starting in the middle of town, that led visitors past a pioneer cemetery and waterfall, before climbing to the top of a panoramic plateau with incredible Gorge views.

Bachelor button!

A new hiking path amongst this well-known spring wildflower paradise?  Of course I had to investigate!  So after spending all morning on the Washington side of the Gorge checking out the Dalles Mountain Ranch and Horsethief Lake State Park, I crossed the river and headed to Mosier.

This bench doubles as a sign

As with a lot of the information I find on the internet, directions to the trailhead were a little sketchy.  Supposedly, this hike started next to "the bridge" in the middle of town.  But after crossing over a small auto bridge, I spied this bench on an adjacent hillside.  No worries! 

The pioneer cemetery was in a lovely setting

Wildflowers lined this trail from the very start.  Brilliant blue bachelor buttons grew in abundance across the hillside.  A short climb from the roadway brought me to a tiny cemetery, overgrown with weeds and purple flowers.

One of the original Mosiers

A dozen headstones were scattered across the area.  Reading the inscriptions, I saw that many of them bore the Mosier name and were from the late 1800s.  It appeared some of the original town founders were buried here.

Live flowers decorate this grave

The lupine bloomed profusely.  Through a gap in the trees, one could see the Columbia River below.  It was a beautiful final resting place.

Another Mosier gravesite

Beyond the cemetery, my path leveled out, and began to follow the rim of a steep canyon.  This cute sign announced the beginning of the town's "pocket park."

Cute sign

Walking along the rim, I glimpsed a few houses on the opposite side, perched precariously on the very edge.  A beautiful place for a home, but I'd be afraid of it sliding down the steep canyon walls.

Mosier Creek Falls

I began to hear roaring water.  The sound grew louder, until I came upon a mighty waterfall, Mosier Creek Falls, churning through a gap in the rocks.  This cascade, measuring in at 100 feet in height, rivaled anything you'd see further west in the Gorge.

A lizard friend

A small railed overlook gave visitors a vantage point.  While setting up my camera here, I happened to glance down, and caught this little lizard looking up at me.  He was posing so nice, I had to include him in the photo shoot.

Mosier Creek

Downstream from Mosier Creek falls is equally scenic.  I'm told this area is a popular swimming hole during hot summer months.

The trail winds through a grassy slope

From the waterfall, my path again started to climb.  I wound through a steep, grassy slope, chock-full of many wildflower varieties.


The pink corydalis looked like little frilly tubes.  I also passed by large fields covered with more bachelor buttons.

The town of Mosier far below

My path began to steepen.  I was really gaining elevation.  Through a few gaps in the trees, I glimpsed the canyon's green outline, and the town proper.

View from Mosier Plateau

And then, I was on top of the plateau.  The Columbia River spread out before me, wide and blue.  There blooming before my eyes, were incredible numbers of bright yellow balsamaroot  flowers.  The purple lupine also joined in the party.

Tiptoe through the flowers

I wandered around the plateau's grassy top, just taking in all its beauty.

The balsamroot was thick

A small sign by a railed viewpoint explained that this windswept tableland was owned by the Friends of the Columbia Gorge.  A nonprofit group dedicated to preserving this wonderful unique part of Oregon, they had purchased the land and constructed a trail so all could enjoy its wonderful vistas.

Cheery lupine

Views up and down the Gorge were outstanding.  This alone was worth climbing that steep slope.  But the prolific floral display -  icing on the cake!

Flowers and views

After soaking in the scenery and taking tons of photos, my sore broken rib let me know it was done for the day.  So I retraced my steps down the trail, past the waterfall, stopping briefly at the cemetery for a few more shots.

More lovely bachelor buttons

As I approached trail's end and my car, I again passed through the bachelor button field.  These tiny blue flowers waved in the wind, as if to bid me goodbye.  A lovely final image from a wonderful day of exploration.

Sharing with: Weekly Top Shot.