Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Vista Ridge

Are you ready to see some fireweed photos?  LOTS of fireweed photos??

Due to foot issues, I missed peak avalanche lily and beargrass bloom on the Vista Ridge Trail.  I'd heard it was spectacular, and was super bummed.  But then around mid-July I got wind that the fireweed was blooming thick and furious on this same trail.  Foot nearly healed, it was time for a visit!

Mt. Hood in morning light

The Vista Ridge Trail, on Mt Hood's northwest flank, takes lots of time and patience to reach.  Navigating a maze of forest service roads, it took nearly three hours before I arrived at it's trailhead.  I did get lost once, taking the wrong road at a fork.  But the silver lining to this misadventure was catching an amazing view of Hood illuminated by morning light.

Trailhead signage

Knowing it would be a long drive, I left my home super-early and arrived just as the sun was cresting over the hilltops.  Weather the day before had been a surprise bout of precipitation, drenching everything in raindrops.  The rising sun made these droplets glisten like diamonds.

Sunburst through the trees

In 2011, the Dollar Lake fire charred a huge area of Mt. Hood's north side.  Vista Ridge Trail was one of the casualties.  Although beginning my trek in a lush fir forest, barely a quarter mile later I came upon a bleak wasteland of ghostly gray trees.

First fireweed sighting

BUT.....the upside to this devastating fire was the abundance of wildflowers repopulating the burn area.  One of the first flowers to reestablish after a blaze is the lovely pink fireweed.  After entering the fire zone, it wasn't long before I got my first glimpse of these beauties rising up from the charred forest floor.

Lovely pink fireweed

A tall, slender wildflower, the pink blossoms of fireweed can reach up to five feet in height.

Fireweed carpeted the forest floor

The camera came out, and I immediately began shooting copious images of these pink beauties.  I hiked further up the trail, and came upon an even higher concentration of blooms.

Dew-dropped petals

Oh was it lovely!  The vivid pink petals really brightened up an otherwise gray, lifeless landscape.

A few views

Although the morning skies were still overcast from the previous night's weather, a few times the clouds parted just enough allow glimpses of the surrounding terrain.  The lack of vegetation on the trees opened up nice views of adjacent foothills and forests below.

Path through the flowers

As I ascended the trail, the concentration of fireweed became thicker and thicker.  In some places it nearly overtook the path.  A total "tiptoe through the wildflowers!"

The burned area coming back to life

I was so enthralled with the wildflower show, progress became glacially slow. I crept from one flower patch to the next, filling my memory card.  I'd never seen so much fireweed in bloom all at once!

"Hippy on a stick"

After a very slow 2 miles and 1200 feet of climbing, I arrived at a junction with the trail to Cairn Basin.  Although I'd left the burn zone and fireweed by then, some very nice specimens of Western Pasque Flower (aka "hippy on a stick") were blooming nearby.

Ghostly trees

Decision time.  I really, really wanted to hike down to Cairn Basin and return in a loop via the Timberline Trail.  However, this route necessitated double crossings of Ladd Creek, a fast-moving glacial stream.  After the previous day's rain, I was sure it would be running high.

Bright pink fireweed blooms!

After debating at the junction for a couple minutes, I decided to go for the loop.  I reasoned if I reached the first creek crossing and it was truly dangerous, I could always turn around and retrace my steps.


The first part of this trail was a true delight.  I passed more large patches of fireweed, even more vividly colored than the previous batch.  I wandered through a gorgeous mountain meadow, already turning golden, and crossed a tiny creeklet lined by yellow monkeyflowers.

Mighty Ladd Creek

And then, I began to hear the sound of rushing water.  The trail seemed to disappear into the rocky banks of Ladd Creek, and it took a few tries before locating the crossing.

Foggy skies

A flimsy tree trunk had been placed across the Ladd's raging torrent.  This appeared to be what hikers were using to cross the creek.  I stared and stared at the log, trying to gather my courage to shimmy across.  The water was moving so fast, I knew one false move and I'd plummet into the strong current and be washed away.  From experience, I know most creek crossings look much worse than they really are.  However, something in my gut was telling me to turn around.


The fact that I was by myself finally swung the pendulum.  I reasoned that if I did attempt a crossing and fell into the creek, no one would be there to help.  It wasn't worth the risk.  Cairn Basin would have to wait for another day.

Timberline Trail

So I turned around and returned up the path I'd just galloped down, one mile uphill to the junction with Vista Ridge Trail.  And really, this trail was so beautiful the first time, I didn't mind passing through again.

Remains of the fire

As I started back down the Vista Ridge Trail, another surprise awaited.  Ripe huckleberries!  Bushes lined the trail, laden with tiny, sweet, purple fruit.  How had I missed this the first time?

Flowers brighten the burn area

After gorging on berries (slowing progress down once again) I continued downhill until reaching the fireweed zone once again.  Did I have enough photographs of the massive bloom yet?  I think you know the answer to that......

A splash of color

The overcast late morning light was nearly perfect for photography.  So of course I had to take advantage of it.  Forward progress ground to a halt.

Close up

Oh, I had so much fun trying to capture these unique wildflowers.  I came away with a bunch of amazing images (so hard to choose just a few for the blog).

Final view

Although I didn't complete the planned loop to Cairn Basin, I wasn't disappointed in the least.  Discovering such a large amount of fireweed at peak bloom was the highlight of this day. 

Stats:  8 miles, 1700 feet elevation gain.

Sharing with:  Through My Lens and Wednesday Around the World.


  1. The contrast of the pink fireweed and grey trunks is quite spectacular. Pity it takes a fire to go through to bring out the best of these wildflowers.

  2. We call it rosebay willow herb. It is a food plant for the elephant hawk moth here. I loved all your photos of such a beautiful place.

  3. The tall trees and the beautful wilflowers are spectacular.

  4. Gorgeous captures, Linda, I love the purple! :)

  5. In the UK we call that plant Rose Bay Willow herb. It is very common here and was the very first plant I learned the name of from the old 'Ladybird' books. That first photo is a gem. I wonder how long you stood looking at that scene before moving on.

  6. Hello, Linda! What a lovely hike. It is nice to see the wildflowers taking over the burned area. The fireweed is gorgeous. I can just picture you tiptoeing thru the flowers. I am glad you did not cross the stream but that could be the chicken in me talking. Thanks for taking me along on your hike! Awesome post and photos.

  7. You out-did yourself on your photos this post - absolutely stunning!

  8. Beautiful fireweed! Ours bloomed early along with most of the other wildflowers in the High Country because of the severe drought. Your pictures are spectacular, and I love that pink color. :-)

  9. Ah- so gorgeous! And that first shot is pure majesty.

  10. The flowers are so beautiful in these photos, as well as Mt. Hood.

  11. A lovely series Linda! The fireweed is so pretty.

  12. Looks worth the drive and early alarm clock! And sounds like a fun trip.

  13. Gorgeous! Fireweed is one of my favorites. What's the most scenic hike (of 5-12 mi) around Mt Hood? I plan to visit at the end of the month.

  14. What impressive photos of the Fireweed, I have never seen it in such a large area! It is a beautiful flower:)

  15. Great photo of Mt Hood which looks a stunning mountain. Fireweed has been used as a medicine and made into tea in the past. Grows on waste ground here and is a nice splash of colour in fields in late summer.

  16. What unique pictures - the pink Fireweed under the burned trees.

  17. That's a lot of fireweed - it certainly is beautiful.

  18. This post is perfect timing! We recently hiked West Fork Rock Creek in Red Lodge and I knew that all the spent fireweed in the burnt forest would have been incredible in the month past...and you have shown it to me! Gorgeous!

    Good idea to turn around and save it for another day.

  19. Incredible images. You have such a great eye!

  20. Even destruction can lead to beauty. Nature can teach us all a valuable lesson, life keeps going on and waits for no one.

  21. An interesting and pretty hike

  22. You had a fireweed bonanza! I was just saying to Bob yesterday that I don't think our fireweed bloomed as prolifically in the mountains this year. Nature sure did compensate for that charred forest! I am always wary about jumping creeks when I'm alone. Usually, I let Bob go first and grab my hand to pull so I'm sure I get across!

  23. I love fireweed! I don't remember seeing any here this summer. Hmmm. I guess I wasn't in any of the right places.

  24. Spectacular! But I wish you'd go with a hiking partner.

  25. What beauty you found! I bet it made up for the flowers you missed :) Hippie on a stick is a new one for me.

  26. What a fantastic hike. Nature is miraculous, isn't it? You were very brave to hike by yourself. I love the name "hippie on a stick." I wonder how that name came about.

  27. -`✺´-
    Fotografias lindas!!! Lugar maravilhoso!!!

    Uma boa semana, cheia de surpresas agradáveis!

  28. Hmmm...huckleberries. There are never enough pictures. :) Beautiful!

  29. We saw lots of Fireweed in Newfoundland but no display as impressive as that!

  30. I can see why you took lots of pictures - we used to call that plant Rose-Bay Willow Herb, but it was also called Fireweed in the UK as it grew on the old bomb sites after WWII.

    cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  31. Gorgeous captures! The fireweeds look amazing against the grey wood.


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