Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Afternoon on Hardy Ridge

What does one do when their Friday off gets cluttered with appointments and tasks - but all they really want to do is go hiking?  Answer - schedule the chores in the morning and go hiking in the afternoon!

And - choose a nearby trail.

Lovely backlit leaves

When I'm pressed for time but still want a good bit of exercise, the Hardy Ridge Trail always fits the bill.  Located in Beacon Rock State Park, it's close-in location (Washington side of the Columbia River Gorge) means a quick drive for those of us in the Portland area.  If you're looking for the most hiking bang for your buck, this path delivers!

Bright colored leaves and dewdrops

Friday was predicted to be the lone sunny day for this final week of October, before more rain moved in again (just in time for the weekend, of course!).  So after completing all my morning commitments, I eagerly loaded up my backpack and camera.  Pulling into the Hardy Ridge parking lot at high noon, I knew I'd have to hustle if I was going to complete the entire 9-mile loop before dark.

Yellow leaves and blue sky

The first mile or so follows an old abandoned road, lined on both sides by thick forests.  The leaves were in full color mode and I took many "photo breaks" to capture their lovely hues.  Bright sunshine backlit some leaves and leftover morning dewdrops, making them sparkle like jewels.

The famous "boot rock"

After following the old road, and detouring on a short trail through the forest, my climbing began!  With a total elevation gain of 2500 feet, I climbed for quite awhile.  Although the autumn colors were mostly over in these higher forests, I did pass by one local landmark, an unusual boot-shaped rock sitting on an old tree stump.

A lot drier now than last spring!

Arriving at the junction of my loop trail, I had to get a GoPro selfie to compare with the photo I took here during last spring's soggy hike.

Columbia River view from on high

Then I kept climbing until my path leveled out on the ridgetop.  Unlike last spring's foggy, rainy hike, today's sunny skies unveiled the fabulous Gorge views this trail is known for.  The Columbia River spread out below, like a wide blue ribbon.

Table Mountain

Heading due east across the ridge, I was treated to this grand view of Table Mountain.

My route along Hardy Ridge

Everything looked so different in the fall!  Instead of lush green foliage and vividly colored wildflowers, the treeless ridgetop was mostly brown.  But I was loving the big blue sky and panoramic vistas.

Dazzling green moss

A sketchy user trail takes hikers across Hardy Ridge's spine until terminating at Phlox Point.  As I approached the end, I noticed a huge patch of electric lime-green moss covering the ground.

Mt Hood made an appearance

Phlox Point makes a wonderful resting/lunch/photo point.  Today's sunny skies meant I could see the entire Gorge and Columbia River spread out below.  Mt Hood's pointy top rose above the Gorge foothills, sporting her new coat of winter white.

My lunch view

Rest break spots don't get much better than this!

Patchwork color on the ridge

After soaking in the views and enjoying my snack, I knew it was time to get moving if I wanted to get back to my car before dark.  At least the downhill trip would be quicker than my climb!

Leaves in afternoon light

So back across the ridge I went, snapping a few more shots of the fab view.  I could see clouds starting to move in from the west - tomorrow's rainstorm approaching.  Made me glad I rearranged my schedule and fit this hike in today's weather window.

Barren trees give way to river views

I took a different trail back down the ridge.  It switchbacked steeply and endlessly.  I thought I'd never reach the next abandoned road section, but of course it did finally materialize.  Following a flat stretch for a bit, I enjoyed more Gorge glimpses through the now-bare forest.

Last leaf

There was still quite a bit of green hanging on in these forests.  And a few golden leaves too.

Beautiful woods walk

Late afternoon light illuminated the adjacent woods beautifully.

Late afternoon light on the forest

And lower down, the trees still retained their golden leaves.  But not for long....I could tell autumn colors were nearing the season's tail end.

Last of the fall color

Finally I reached the same road I'd walked in on.  From here it was an extremely long mile-plus trudge to my car - that seemed to take forever (I swore the trail stretchers had been out!)  But the promise of a reward - beers and burger at one of my favorite Gorge brewpubs had me arriving at my car well before sundown.  (Beer and food are always good motivators!) 

Leaf pile

The entire month of October was so rainy, I'm glad I took advantage of this rare sunny day to get my weekly outdoor fix.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop

One of the classic Gorge Fall hikes is the lovely Multnomah - Wahkeena Loop.  It's a trail I hike every fall (long-time blog followers will no doubt already know this!)  So continuing on the theme of "Autumn's Greatest Hits," here's a photographic recap of my mid-October visit to this stunningly beautiful place.

Slender cascades stream down this rock face

After seeing photos on the Portland Hikers Facebook page touting lovely leaf colors peaking along the Wahkeena Trail, I knew the time had come to make my annual trek.  So the Sunday following my Silver Falls State Park visit, I recharged my camera for the weekend's second autumn photoshoot.  One of the best things about this hike is it's a quick 45-minute drive from my house.  Traveling through the Columbia River Gorge this time of year is always a treat.  Brilliant oranges and yellows lined the Historic Highway as I approached the trailhead at Wahkeena Falls.

Train tracks view from the Gorge Trail

Over the years I've done this loop many times, started at different places, and hiked the trails in both directions.  Today, I decided to do the loop clockwise starting at Wahkeena Falls. I began on the Gorge Trail for a short half mile to Multnomah Falls.  A quick ramble through colorful woods, I passed by a tall cliff dripping with tiny rivulets, and was treated to scenic glimpses of railroad tracks through the trees.

Mighty Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls is always a busy place, and today was no exception.  Despite the cloudy, gray, damp weather, a good crowd had gathered on the lower viewing platform, and many more clogged the path up to the picturesque Benson Bridge.  A top tourist draw - at 611 total feet in height, this lovely cascade is the tallest waterfall in Oregon.  (The upper falls is 542 feet high, while the second tier measures a respectable 69 foot drop.)

Lookin' good with her autumn wardrobe!

Changing trees surrounding Multnomah Falls makes autumn an especially scenic time to visit (hence the throngs of people...)  The waterfall looked fantastic surrounded by colorful orange and yellow leaves just reaching peak color.  Although not packing my tripod, I was still able to capture some great images of this gorgeous waterfall.  With scenery this stunning it's not difficult.

Upper falls from above the Benson Bridge

After photographing from the lower viewpoint, I dodged tourists and trekked to the Benson Bridge for some up close and personal views.  Recent heavy rainfall had the falls roaring, and anyone standing on the bridge was instantly doused with spray.  Wishing to avoid such a camera-unfriendly situation, I waited until I'd passed the bridge before snapping a couple of upper falls images.

Gnarly tree branches

Then my climbing began!  Although paved, the trail to the top of Multnomah Falls gained 700 feet in eleven long switchbacks (and to add insult to injury, each switchback was numbered).  It didn't take long before I was puffing heavily and shedding clothing layers.

Beautiful Multnomah Creek

At the very top of the climb, there's a short path that takes visitors to the very top of the falls.  Having seen this sight many times already, I was planning bypass this detour, continuing on the Larch Mtn trail another mile to the Wahkeena Falls junction.  But a huge downed tree blocked this trail just beyond the viewpoint turnoff, putting the kibosh on any uphill travel.

Mossy delight

I sized up the situation.  There wasn't enough room to shimmy under the tree.  And climbing over it with my backpack and camera bag strapped on would be dangerously awkward.  Was I going to have to cancel my plans and turn around?

After pondering a bit, I decided to shed my baggage, sliding it under the tree to the opposite side.  Now unencumbered, I was able to clamber onto the wet, slippery bark and hoist myself over.  It wasn't easy, but I made it.  And my acrobatics even impressed a man watching from the other side!

Weisendanger Falls

That large fallen log definitely kept the crowds down!  I traversed the entire trail to Wahkeena junction without seeing more than a handful of people.  It was definitely a magical place to have all to myself.  Large, gnarled, mossy branches overhung the forest.  Thick, multi-hued vegetation lined my path.  And a couple more mighty waterfalls churned through nearby Multnomah Creek.

I just loved all the mossy branches!

I was having so much fun taking in this spectacular scenery, the Wahkeena Trail junction appeared in no time.  Continuing up the Wahkeena Trail, I thought I'd left the best of this autumn finery behind.  But the color show wasn't over yet......

Yellow burst in the woods

Climbing upwards through more mossy green forest, a huge patch of yellow leaves lit up the woods like a beacon.

Fabulous yellow leaf colors

Absolutely stunning!  Comparing photos from previous years (I'm realizing I tend to take photos of the same places each visit) this was definitely some of the best leaf color ever.

Branch silhouette

Nope, photos don't lie.  This year's autumn show was incredible.

Wahkeena Trail was an autumn wonderland

I traipsed along the trail, clicking away, a huge smile plastered across my face.

Really brightened up the forest

The entire Wahkeena trail, from the Multnomah junction to Wahkeena Springs was one huge golden color-fest. 

Funny graffiti

Reaching the trail sign at Wahkeena Springs, I was amused by the graffiti written near the bottom.  Although I'm not in favor of defacing anything, I must admit it made me chuckle.

Old fallen leaves

Then began the downward march to my car. 

Lovely little Wahkeena Creek

The trail switchbacked down a steep, muddy path, following charming little Wahkeena Creek.  I passed by lovely little Fairy Falls, but there was already a crowd gathered at it's base, so I kept on walking.

Spotted leaf

I admired the patterns and colors the already-fallen leaves made on the trail.

Approaching Lemmon viewpoint

Passing by Lemmon Viewpoint, I took a quick detour to get a good look at the Columbia River.  Although it's opposite shore was a lovely patchwork-quilt of colors, the light was at the wrong angle for photographs.

Ferns and leaf

From Lemmon Viewpoint, the trail transitioned into an asphalt path.  With the improved trail came a sharp increase in the number of hikers.  The closer I traveled towards the trailhead, the more people (especially unprepared for hiking) I encountered.

Bench with a view

Just before Wahkeena Falls, I came upon this idyllic bench surrounded by a huge swath of colors.  A  perfect photo op!  But it quickly became overtaken by a large family who decided to hang out for awhile.  I waited patiently for several minutes before the group finally moved on.

Wahkeena Falls was a busy place

Upper Wahkeena Falls is a mere 1/4 mile from the trailhead.  Due to it's close proximity the path below is usually packed with people.  I tried for a few quick images of this cascade, but a people-free frame was virtually impossible.  This shot was the best I could do.

Wahkeena Falls through the autumn colors

Crowds or not, it still was a splendid place.  Yellow leaves brightened the adjacent forest, with a swirling whitewater creek as it's centerpiece.

Downstream from Wahkeena Falls

Covering the final distance to my car, I was immensely pleased.  A memory card full of outstanding fall colors and good bit of exercise to boost my mood.  And despite threatening clouds, I lucked out with a dry day.

GoPro selfie

A delightful trek!  I was able to fit this adventure into a Sunday afternoon and still be home well before dinner.

Stats:  5.4 miles round trip, 1600 feet elevation gain

Sharing with:  Through My Lens

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Autumn Finery at Silver Falls State Park

If you've followed my blog for any length of time, you probably know Silver Falls State Park is number one on my list of "autumn's greatest hits."  Not only boasting fantastic leaf color, it's trail system passes ten mighty waterfalls.

Drippy leaves

To beat the weekend crowds at this extremely popular park, I always schedule my fall visit for a Friday.  Although the forecast on this late October day mentioned a chance of rain, I decided to take my chances.  Besides, waterfalls photograph better on cloudy days.

Rainy, foggy forest

Trusting the weatherman, I naively thought I'd escape a day of rain.  Of course I'd conveniently forgotten the month of October thus far had been an extremely wet one.  Pulling into the park's spacious parking lot, I was greeted with a few tiny raindrops speckling my windshield.

Mossy branch

Okay, that's what raingear is for!  I dug out my pack cover and slipped on rain jacket and gaiters.  And as an afterthought, grabbed an old umbrella out of the car.

Golden path

On my way to the famous "Trail of Ten Falls," I passed by Silver Fall's lovely rustic lodge.  Framed by drippy, yellow leaves, it was the first thing that got my camera's attention.  But wanting to get some images of South Falls before the onslaught of visitors, I didn't linger long. 

Although a tiny bit past prime, the leaf colors did not disappoint!  Following the windy, paved path to the canyon bottom, I stopped periodically to capture the yellow and golds, mixed amongst mossy old trees.

South Falls photo No. 1

About halfway down is a splendid view of South Falls shimmering cascade.  Dropping 177 feet across a basalt cliff face, it has the distinction of being the park's second-tallest waterfall.  Setting up my tripod, I captured dozens of images from every conceivable angle.  But these two photos were my favorites. 

South Falls photo No. 2

I couldn't decide which to post on the blog, so included them both.  Which one do you prefer?

Yellow tunnel

As I was finishing my photo session, another man set up his tripod nearby.  Striking up a conversation, I learned he was from Melbourne, Australia and was on an extended vacation in the Pacific NW.  He'd been to Seattle, the Oregon coast, and his next stop was Central Oregon.

Leaf-littered path

Surrendering the prime photo spot to my new Aussie friend, I packed up and continued my trek to the canyon's very bottom.  It was a slow trip.  Around each bend were more colorful trees, mossy branches, or huge ferns.  Too many wonderful things to photograph!

Fallen leaves and ferns

Crossing a bridge over Silver Creek, the spotty sprinkles transitioned into a downpour.  Seeking shelter under a large tree, I packed my camera away, and watched the Melbourne man pass by.

The forest looks otherworldly!

Braving the heavy moisture, I decided to continue my hike.  Surely it was only a passing shower.  The weatherman did say only a chance of rain today.....right?

Below Lower South Falls

Another mile down the Canyon Trail brought me to the second waterfall, Lower South Falls.  This portion of the park was an absolute delight.  Yellows, oranges, and golds dotted the surrounding woods.  Green moss and huge ferns draped over everything.  It was like walking through a fairy-tale forest.  Lingering fog added to the magic.  I half expected to meet a hobbit.

Gorgeous forest

All the recent rainfall had Lower South Falls churning mightily.  I couldn't get close enough for a decent photo without spray totally dousing my camera.  So instead I settled for some shots of the scenic creek below the falls.

Below Middle North Falls

Trekking on, I traveled another mile, where I knew four other waterfalls were clustered.  After several leapfrogs, I passed my Aussie friend for the final time at the Maple Ridge Trail Junction.  Not prepared for wet weather, (we must've heard the same forecast!) he was getting soaked, and decided to head back.

Lower North Falls and Drake Falls were the next cascades I passed by.  Smaller waterfalls, these only measured 27 and 30 high respectively.  Holding out for the taller, grander cascades, I traipsed by without stopping for photos (I've become such a waterfall snob!)

Middle North Falls

I was holding out for Middle North Falls, my most favorite waterfall in the park.  Although shorter (106 feet in height), it's wide lacy, curtain fans elegantly across the lip of a mossy, forested cliff.  A footpath leads visitors into a cavern behind its roaring plume.  To experience what it's like to walk behind this waterfall, check out the short video above.

Window through the dense forest

The muddy, slippery path took me all the way around Middle North Falls to an excellent viewpoint on the canyon's opposite side.  An overhanging rock provided shelter from the pelting rain (most welcome!) so I took the opportunity to have a snack.  Protected from the weather, I couldn't pass up a chance to get some more photos of this breathtaking waterfall.

Moss-draped tree

Although the forest and waterfalls had been amazing, I was starting to really get soaked.  Deciding I'd traveled far enough for the day, I followed a short trail past slender Winter Falls that climbed out of the canyon.

Leaves litter the bank

Despite the soggy weather, by midday the park had filled with visitors.  I encountered several large groups heading down the trail as I was climbing up.  Oregonians don't let a little moisture spoil their outdoor plans!

Picturesque bridge

By the time I returned to the lodge area, the rainy weather was letting up.  The adjacent trees were so colorful, I couldn't resist a couple shots of this scenic footbridge.

Lodge outbuilding

Or this lovely bush near a deserted picnic area.

Silver Falls Lodge looks cozy

Or one final image of the cozy lodge building surrounded by dazzling orange color.

Multi-hued vine maple

Back at the parking lot, a wall of technicolor vine maple leaves delayed my departure.

More lovely vine maple leaves

Not sure what causes these leaves to turn different colors on the same tree, but I do know they make wonderful photo subjects.

Beautiful crimson leaf

I survived the soaking rain, and came away with a camera full of stunning fall images.  This is the reason I return to Silver Falls State park every autumn - rain or shine!

Stats:  5.2 miles round-trip, 400 feet elevation gain.

(Silver Falls State Park is located an hour's drive east of Salem, Oregon)