|One of many friendly butterflies
I'd heard reports that wildflowers were in full bloom up on Silver Star Mountain. One of my favorite places to catch midsummer flowers, I was due for a visit.
|First big views
Silver Star Mountain is located in SW Washington, just east and a bit north of Vancouver. However, one must navigate some very rough Forest Service roads to access many of the trailheads (most notably the wildly popular Ed's Trail). Not wanting to put my car through such abuse, I chose to begin my hike at the Grouse Vista Trailhead, located on the mountain's south side.
|Keep on climbin'
It had been over 10 years since I'd been to Grouse Vista and I nearly forgot how to get there. Getting turned around on an unmarked road, I lost almost an hour trying to find the trailhead. But after figuring out my mistake, it was smooth sailing on good gravel roads. There were still parking spots when I arrived at 9 am (but that would soon change!)
|Lovely trailside paintbrush
My plan for today was to begin on an abandoned road that led up to Silver Star's summit. After tagging the top, I'd return via the Tarbell Trail, making my trek a nearly 9 mile loop.
|This butterfly matched the flower
The day was already warm as I started out on the old, rocky road. This trail began climbing relentlessly from the very start, and I was thankful for the shady thick forest. But after a mile, the woods gave way to open meadows and fantastic views.
I contoured along the side of a ridge, cleared by a long-ago forest fire. Up here, I could see for miles and checked out the nearby green hills, some bearing scars from logging operations. My view extended far west and north, and I could just make out Silver Star's summit, the day's destination.
|Mt Hood near Silver Star summit
The old road continued to climb steeply, gaining 1600 feet in 3 miles. In the clearing areas, wildflowers began to color adjacent hillsides. I saw penstemon, loads of bright orange paintbrush, and some cheery yellow flowers (which I didn't know the name).
A few butterflies flitted through the blooms, and I tried in vain to capture one with my camera. But just about the time I'd get focused in, the butterfly would get wind of my purpose and fly off. One yellow butterfly did sit still on a yellow flower and waited long enough for me to get a couple shots.
I had the trail almost all to myself until the junction with Ed's Trail, just below Silver Star's summit. A gorgeous trek through colorful meadows, this trail is heavily traveled, despite the horrible road one must travel to reach it's trailhead. (For photos of Ed's Trail click here)
|St Helens and Rainier line the horizon
There was a continuous stream of people trekking from Ed's Trail up to Silver Star's summit. I'd never seen so many people here! I tucked in with the mob making their way uphill. Although a steep climb, it was short, and in no time at all, I was on the summit gazing at Silver Star's incredible views.
|Lovely beargrass tuft
Not only could one see four major Cascade peaks lining the horizon (St Helens, Rainier, Adams and Hood) but the beargrass was blooming thick and furious in the valley below the summit. I delayed my lunch to take lots of photos of the amazing sights.
|Mt Adams view
Then I sat on the rocky summit and wolfed down my food. I was far from alone - I must've shared this small area with thirty people. One lady kept trying to do headstands while her companions took photographs. Another group was talking super loudly - which was most annoying. As I ate, more and more groups of people made their way onto the already crowded summit. After downing half my lunch, I'd had enough, and decided it was time to leave.
Approaching the junction directly below the summit, I noticed a bunch of people staring and pointing cameras at the sky. Looking up, I noticed a thin wispy cloud sporting rainbow colors. A most unusual sight!
After a quick bit of searching, I located my return route. It required a short trek down an overgrown, abandoned road to reach the Tarbell Trail. The good news was that almost nobody was hiking this way, so I was able to escape the crowds.
The other good news was that along this old road, the wildflowers were thick! I spotted wild iris, asters, more paintbrush, and lovely orange columbine.
And, best of all, the butterflies were back!
|The butterflies loved all the columbine
They seemed to love the columbine. I saw numerous swallowtail butterflies attaching themselves to these flowers. There must've been something good to eat on those blooms, because those butterflies latched on, and didn't care if I got close with my camera.
|Gorgeous columbine flowers
Butterflies posing for my camera! It was a dream come true.
|Getting something good!
The lower in elevation I traveled, the more butterflies I saw. There were dozens of them, in all colors and sizes, fluttering through the forest.
|This one posed nicely
Oh it was so much fun to photograph these lovely butterflies! All of them were so intent on getting nutrition from the flowers, they didn't care in the least if I photographed them. I've never had butterflies hold still for so long.
|My favorite shot
After umpteen-million images, and a nearly full memory card, I knew it was time to call it a day. So I headed down the wildflower-lined Tarbell Trail, with butterflies sailing all around me. It was magical!
Nearing the parking lot, I had one final shot of beauty passing through an area thick with orange paintbrush. The blooms were the largest ones I've seen this year. They lined the trail like a bright carpet. A great way to end such a wonderful day!
|Lovely paintbrush patch near trail's end
I returned to a trailhead overflowing with vehicles. Cars were parked down the narrow gravel road for a mile each direction. I guess sunny summer days bring out the crowds!
Although the flowers and views were great as always, it was the beautiful butterflies that made this such a special hike.