Thursday, November 27, 2014

Waterfall Friday

Happy waterfall Friday!

Okay, so I know it's not Friday, but that was the day I visited the waterfalls you're about to see.

Shhhh....secret waterfall!

Still catching up from pre-surgery hikes, back in mid-October I decided to take advantage of a Friday off to explore some "new to me" waterfalls.  The falls were south of Portland, not far from Mt. Angel, where my son attends seminary.  Both were located in remote canyons, which is why I'd never before attempted to find them.  But was the day!

I almost didn't go.  The weatherman was predicting rain starting mid-morning, and continuing until evening.  But not wanting to waste a perfectly good day off, I bit the bullet and decided to go anyway.  Hey, I live in Oregon, a state known for it's sogginess.  How bad could a little rain be?

The "trail"

First up on my waterfall tour was Abiqua Falls.  I'd seen many photos of it on the Portland Hikers website.  Located deep in a wooded canyon this lovely 80-foot cascade tumbles down an impressive basalt cliff.  But, as I was about to find out, accessing this treasure is not for the faint of heart.

After passing through the tiny village of Scotts Mills, I followed a winding road through gorgeous farm country.  This road eventually turned into gravel, and the farther I traveled, the rougher it became.  Then, I turned off this "main" road onto a steep, narrow gravel track.  This was where the fun started.  This "path" (I refuse to call it a road) was littered with potholes and sharp rocks.  It meandered through an abandoned quarry that looked like it was now used for off road vehicles and target practice.  In some places, the road's edge dropped off steeply, and it roller-coastered up, down, and around many sharp curves.  A single lane in width, I hoped and prayed not to meet a vehicle coming from the other direction.

Abiqua Falls in it's rocky amphitheater

The drive seemed to take an eternity.  Many times I was tempted to turn around and head back.  I kept encountering larger and sharper rocks.   All by myself, I worried about getting a flat or tearing a hole in my oil pan (it would've been a long walk out).  But, finally I spied a small sign in the forest and immediately after the road ended with a gate across it's path.  I had arrived!

Fall colors

But the fun didn't end at the trailhead.  Since technically, Abiqua Falls is located on private land, there's no developed trail to reach it.  From the parking area, I discovered a rough scramble path through the forest.  It dropped nearly vertically through thick woods to the bottom of a canyon.  In some of the steeper places, a nice person had strung rope along the muddy track to give visitors a safe handhold (and I wasn't too proud to use it). 

I walked through a spiderweb to get this shot

Reaching the canyon's bottom, I followed a faint path along a creek.  The shoreline was lined with large rocks, necessitating lots of scrambling over huge boulders and downed trees.  My tripod, which I'd jury-rigged to the back of my pack, kept getting caught on nearby branches.  The rocks were muddy and slippery, and I fell a few times (but luckily nothing too serious).

Although only a half mile in distance, my trek to the waterfall seemed to take forever.  Many times, I questioned my directions.  And then, rounding the final bend of the creek, I spied the object of my search.  Located in a huge amphitheater of blocky basalt, Abiqua Falls thundered a loud welcome.

Such a cool place for a waterfall!

Of course, the rain decided to time it's start with my arrival.  Not wanting to douse my new camera, I crouched under the side of a cliff, waiting things to clear up.  Several minutes passed with me staring at that lovely waterfall, just begging to be photographed.  Finally, tired of waiting, I drug my tripod out to the rocky banks, and began capturing images anyway.

Looking downstream

Such a wonderful cascade in an absolutely beautiful setting!  The rocky canyon walls framed Abiqua Falls nicely.  There was an area where a bunch of yellow leaves had settled in a backwater.  Thinking this would make a great foreground for a waterfall picture, I moved my tripod over and positioned it by the cliff's overhang.  While shooting away, I noticed some web sticking to my hat.  Looking up, I realized, to my horror, I'd walked right into a large spider's web, and the spider was dangling straight above me!  Eeek!  I hate spiders with a passion.  I don't think I've ever moved so quickly!

Close-up of the unique rock formation

I spend over an hour admiring the falls, and it rained most of the time.  I tried to cover my camera, first with a bandana, and then with my coat, but it got wet anyway.  Many of my shots were ruined due to water spots on the lens, which I didn't catch until later.  But despite the rain, I still was able to get a few money shots.  A waterfall this lovely doesn't take a bad picture.

Walking back downriver

If not for the rain, I could've lingered all day in this gorgeous canyon.  But there was one other waterfall visit on the agenda, so I finally packed up my camera equipment, and climbed back out.

Upper Butte Creek Falls

Second stop on my Friday waterfall tour was Butte Creek Falls.  I gingerly drove my car back up that nasty, rock-strewn track, and breathed a sigh of relief when it finally met up with the "main" gravel road.  Not far off the main road was another turnoff for waterfall site number two.

Fall colors in full force

Luckily, Butte Creek Falls was much easier to access.  The road was in good shape and I made it to the parking area with no trouble.  Managed by the Santiam State Forest, the trailhead boasted a nice parking area, great signage, and even a restroom.  True luxury compared to Abquia Falls!

Can you see the men to the left of the falls?

Sadly, about the time I pulled into the parking area, the sky decided to open up.  I sat in my car munching a sandwich and tried to wait out the downpour.  It never did let up completely, but when the rain finally slowed down, I went ahead and packed up my camera and tripod and headed down the trail.  The trails here were wonderful - well graded and signed.  There was even a box of pamphlets, complete with maps, at the trailhead.

Creekside view

There were two gorgeous waterfalls at this park, Upper and Lower Butte Creek Falls.  I chose the path to Upper Falls first.  Although much shorter than it's sister cascade (only 30 feet), I loved it's wide, multi-streamed curtain.  Upper Butte Creek falls emptied into a lovely, rocky splash pool.  It also boasted a small cavern behind it's stream, accessible to daring hikers (I saw two young men and a dog in there while I was taking photos).  The surrounding forest was a kaleidoscope of greens and fall colors.

Lower Butte Creek Falls

Unfortunately, about the time I reached the first waterfall, the rain began to ramp up again.  I tried to shoot a bunch of photos anyway, but a lot of them turned out rain-spattered and blurry.  So I packed up my camera and decided to check out the lower falls.

Surrounded by yellow

Lower Butte Creek Falls was the best of them all.  A slender, twisting cascade, it dropped 70 feet from a high cliff to the water below.  It was surrounded by a forest bursting with fall color.  The only viewing access was atop a narrow, rocky ridge opposite the falls.  Against the wind and rain, I set up my tripod as close to the edge as I dared, and fired off a few shots, intermittently wiping off my lens in between.

Nice trail with a new log bridge

The fall colors  here were nothing short of spectacular.  As a matter of fact, it was the best showing of autumn finery so far.  It was the perfect accompaniment to these lovely wisps of water.

I returned to my car via a well-graded trail that passed over this cute log bridge.  Leaves littered my path, and I couldn't resist setting up the tripod for a few final shots.

Lone leaf

A little adventure, a lot of rain, some fall colors, and three amazing waterfalls.  Not too bad for venturing out in less-than-ideal weather.  Dinner with my son was the perfect end to a great day of exploring.

P.S.  Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  :)

Sharing with:  Scenic Weekends and Friday Photo Journal and Weekly Top Shot.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Race of Firsts

One of my favorite races, the Girlfriends Half Marathon, is a mid-October tradition.  An all-women's event benefiting the Susan G. Komen Foundation, it offers a beautiful flat course across the river in Vancouver, Washington.  When I ran this race last year I ended up with a new PR (personal record) for the half marathon distance.

At the starting line

Having run the Portland Marathon the week before, my body was still in full-on recovery mode.  (I wanted to run Girlfriends, but my quads said "no way!")  However, lots of people I knew signed up, including my daughter Denise.

Denise is ready to run!

Watching me finish the Corvallis Half Marathon last April had inspired Denise to tackle a half of her own.  After I recommended Girlfriends Half, she immediately signed up.  Unfortunately, short-handed at her job, Denise ended up working long days all summer, which didn't allow for much training time.  The race organizers also offered a quarter marathon option, (approx. 6.7 miles) and nervous about running a half marathon on sketchy training, Denise gladly switched to the shorter distance.

What's a race without fun signs?

Also toeing the start line that day was my neighbor and morning running partner Penny.  Plagued by health issues and injuries for the past couple of years, her long time goal was to complete a half marathon (Penny had signed up for last year's race, only to withdraw due to injuries). 

Penney takes on the half marathon!

But now healthy and fully recovered, she'd trained diligently all summer for this day.  I was happy to see Penny here, and excited as she was for her first half marathon.

Loved this lady's t-shirt!

As participants lined up to start the race, I roamed around the crowd with my camera looking for good photo ops - like the message on this woman's t-shirt.

Modeling their pink striped socks

Or this happy group of ladies, all sporting matching striped pink socks.  Because this race was a benefit for breast cancer research, pink was a popular color choice.  I ran into lots of friends and acquaintances from the local running community (prompting my daughter to exclaim " you know everyone?")

Seahawks fans

Before I knew it, the countdown began, a horn blew, and runners emptied out of the starting area.  Standing in a now-deserted street, I felt pangs of sadness.  The competitor in me wanted to be out on the course too!  Usually the runner, it was hard this time to be a spectator.

Loved the pink "hair"

But today, spectating was my job.  Planning to meet my friends on the course, and cheer my daughter as well, I hopped into the car.  Driving the course backwards to avoid runner traffic, I parked a half mile away from the action, and hustled across a busy road to the two-mile mark.  I arrived on the course just as Penny and her friends were passing by.

Darn!  Just missing my running buddy, I hoped to at least get a glimpse of my daughter.  Running on minimal training, Denise had predicted she'd be walking by mile two.

Men of the "pink brigade"

I watched the participants stream by.  Standing beside an enthusiastic volunteer, I joined him in cheering on the runners.  And I grabbed a photo or two of the more unusual costumes, such as the men in the photo above.  Although billed as a women's-only race, men who were able to raise a specific amount of money were allowed to run the race as a member of the "pink brigade."  Hands-down these guys had the best costumes!  (I admire a man who's not afraid to wear pink)

Cyndie and her posse

The runners now past, I scanned the crowd of walkers for my daughter.  But she was nowhere to be found.  When the last of the participants had gone by, I ran back, jumped into my car, and sped to the four-mile mark.  Arriving just as the last of the quarter-marathoners walked by, I realized I'd missed Denise once again.  Hmmm...there was only two miles to go at this point.  I'd better get my hiney to the finish line!

Denise ran a speedy race

So back to the heart of downtown Vancouver I raced.  Finding someplace to park proved to be a time-consuming endeavor, but I finally spied a spot several blocks away.  Pushing my sore post-marathon legs as fast as they would walk, I hustled to the finish line.  And it's a good thing I did.....not two minutes after I arrived, Denise came barreling down the street.

Denise celebrates with the firemen

My daughter finished way faster than I'd anticipated.  What happened?  After Denise picked up her medal and posed with some friendly fireman at the finish, I learned she'd run the entire distance.  I was amazed.....and proud.  Denise seemed to be in great spirits after her run, made even better after discovering she'd placed third in her age group.

April (in pink) finishes strong

After getting Denise some food and drink, we claimed a spot at the finish line and waited for my friends to complete their races.  First came April, decked out in a fun pink outfit.

Adorable little helper

Between racers, it was fun to watch all the activity at the finish line.  A group of local firemen handed out medals to each person.  And a group of enthusiastic cute kids made sure each finisher received a water bottle.  One little boy was absolutely adorable!

Penny finishes her first half marathon!

I kept scanning the crowd for Penny, hoping her race was going well.  Finally, in the distance I spotted Penny and her friends heading towards the finish arch.  Camera in hand, I made sure to capture her moment of triumph.

Finish line celebration

There were cheers, high-fives, hugs, and a few tears of joy (yeah...I misted up a little bit too).  I was happy for my friend - now an official half-marathoner! 

Proud girlfriends

I was proud of both Denise and Penny - Denise for persevering and finishing her race, despite minimal training, and Penny for never giving up, and accomplishing a goal she's dreamed about for a long time.  Well done, ladies!

This year's Girlfriends Half was indeed an event of firsts.  First race for Denise, first half marathon for Penny, and first time I've spectated.  But next year I'll be there, running again (with a new and improved right foot!).  And hopefully Denise and Penny will be right beside me.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Icy Morning

The Pacific Northwest wasn't immune to last week's arctic blast.  A week ago Thursday, I awoke to an ice-covered front yard.

Although still home recovering from foot surgery, I couldn't resist grabbing my camera and hobbling outside.

Still-warm ground quickly melted it's icy crust.  But on vegetation, the frozen droplets clung quite nicely.

My rhodie bushes sported tiny, thin icicles. 

The few roses left were encased in a glittering, frosty shell.

After sitting idle for two weeks, it felt great to get out and capture some images.  Sniff....I miss hiking already.  Can't wait until my foot is healed and I can get back on the trail.

Sharing with:  Today's Flowers.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Indian Heaven - East Crater Trail

The marathon was done.  Fall colors were here.  I had just a few short weeks 'till I'd be waylaid by foot surgery.  Time to get in some hiking!

All decked out in hunter orange!

The month of October was dedicated to visiting my favorite fall trails.  First up on the list, the East Crater Trail into Indian Heaven Wilderness.  I'd hiked here Labor Day weekend last year when the huckleberries were ripe.  But in early October, it was fall color I was after.

Cute mushroom family

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is a lovely high altitude plateau located roughly between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens.  Numerous trails crisscross it's forests, the most famous being the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT).  Dotted with dozens of small lakes, this place is known for mosquitoes in July and huckleberries in August.  And, if you catch it just right, spectacular fall colors in October.

Nice pond reflection

My friend Mary Ellen was a willing partner for this latest adventure.  From past experience, I knew hunting was allowed in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, so we both made sure to sport plenty of orange attire.  Although an online check showed deer season wouldn't start until the day after our hike, I wasn't taking any chances.

Vivid red huckleberry leaves

The Indian Heaven Wilderness is located in southwestern Washington.  The East Crater trailhead was a long drive from Portland, so Mary Ellen and I got an early start.  Despite the nice weather, mine was the only car in the gravel parking pullout.

Nice color mix in the meadow

Autumn colors had started in earnest.  We hadn't traveled very far down the trail when the first reddish-orange huckleberry leaves were spotted.  Although the berries were long gone, the bright colors were a fine substitute.  From there on, my friend and I were treated to a continuous display of fall finery.

Junction Lake shoreline

We passed a couple of tiny ponds, their still waters providing perfect reflections of the trees towering above.

Monet painting?

After 2.5 miles, Mary Ellen and I reached Junction Lake.  Located at the crossroads for many trails (including the PCT) it was appropriately named.  Colorful huckleberry bushes circled the shore, brightening up the already beautiful woods.  Some of the red and yellow colors reflected in the lake's ripply surface, the mirror images resembling a Monet painting.

Mary Ellen relaxing at Junction Lake

My friend and I took a short break here, admiring the beauty all around us.  Such a peaceful place!

More colorful huckleberry leaves

After a short rest and snack, it was time to start our loop through the heart of Indian Heaven.  Leaving the East Crater Trail, we climbed short, steep path that led us over a ridge and down to Lemei Lake.  Puffing up the incline, my legs, not yet a week post-marathon, protested.  But happy to be out hiking on this glorious day, I ignored their complaints and soldiered on.

A patchwork quilt of color

We descended the ridge into a lovely alpine meadow, decked out in golden hues.  Lemei Lake, a shallow, but scenic water body became our lunch stop.

Lemei Lake outlet creek

After refueling with PB & J, apples, and some of Mary Ellen's sea salt butterscotch caramels (my new Trader Joe's fave!) my friend and I followed the trail's continuation, past Lemei Lake's scenic outlet creek.

This path leads to a junction

After two miles on the Lemei Lake trail, we reached a junction with the Indian Heaven Trail.  Our path to this trail sign was lined with more golden fall goodness.

Mossy old forest

We hiked through a gorgeous, mossy old growth forest.

Hiking past a talus slope

And past several talus slopes, complete with chirping pikas.  We stopped, looked, and listened, but were unable to spot any of the elusive rock rabbits.

Clear Lake's gorgeous shoreline

A short 0.3 mile romp brought us to the shores of lovely Clear Lake, and the PCT.  For 1.6 miles, we traveled an especially beautiful stretch of the PCT, past small, sparkling lakes and giant fir trees.

Vintage PCT trail sign

Mary Ellen spotted this vintage PCT trail sign nailed to a tree.  Cool!

This way to Lemei Lake

And then the PCT took us back to Junction Lake, where we'd started our loop.  The fall colors were so nice here, Mary Ellen and I thought it warranted another short break.

Colorful shore

With gorgeous scenery like this, who wants to head home?

New life from an old stump

But sadly, we couldn't stay forever.  My friend and I finally tore ourselves away from this special place, and headed back down the East Crater trail.

Yellow leaves light up the forest

Not only did we hit the fall colors at peak, Mary Ellen and I saw only one other hiking party the entire day (and no hunters).  The weather was warm and sunny and we had the place to ourselves - fall days didn't get any better than this!

Technicolor trail

With tired feet, but a happy face, I headed home.  My camera full of colorful images, they would provide good memories from this perfect autumn day.

Stats:  9.2 miles, 1000' elevation gain.

Sharing with:  Our World Tuesday and Wednesday Around the World.