Monday, July 31, 2017

Boulder Ridge

After checking Kings Mountain off my list, I set my sights on another challenge.  It had been many, many years since I'd ventured up Huckleberry Mountain via the Boulder Ridge Trail.  It's steep, grueling path was one of the reasons I'd stayed away.  But my successful conquest of Kings Mtn gave me enough confidence for a second try.

Salmon River near the trailhead

Could I find a hiking companion crazy enough to join me?  My buddy Young was game.  She's the perfect partner in crime - tough as nails, and never complains (even when her loony friend suggests climbing a steep trail on a hot summer day)

Fern-filled green wonderland

We had a genuine challenge ahead of us - 11 miles round trip and 3100 feet elevation gain.  With afternoon temps predicted in the high 80s.

Nurse log

The trailhead was located at the Wildwood Recreation area, a lovely park managed by the BLM, right off US Hwy 26.  After using their wonderfully clean restroom, complete with hot water, soap, and flushing toilets, we decided that alone was worth the $5 entrance fee.  (Best trailhead bathroom ever!)


Our early arrival meant we had the park almost to ourselves.  The only other people were a group of women, all armed with expensive photography equipment.  Striking up a conversation, Young and I learned they were from eastern Oregon, touring around Mt Hood taking photos of the scenery.  One lady lamented that they'd arrived too late for the rhododendron bloom.  I mentioned that I'd heard the rhodies were still blooming at higher elevations, but the group didn't seem interested in doing any climbing (I know.....not everyone is as crazy as Young and I!)


After crossing over the Salmon River on an impressive wooden footbridge, we bid the photo ladies goodbye.  Winding through a lovely, green, fern-filled forest for half a mile, Young and I located the Boulder Ridge trailhead sign.  Things were about to get real!

Rhodie sighting!

The climb started immediately.  Steeply switchbacking up the the side of Boulder Ridge, Young and I slowly sweated and gasped our way higher. 

Wild iris

At first we didn't see many flowers.  Only thick woods of Douglas fir lined our trail.  Then I glimpsed a few orange honeysuckle blooms and some salal.  Then a scattering of lovely wild iris flowers.  They were lovely, but I really hoped we hadn't missed the rhodies.

Young admires the green forest

After about a mile of climbing, Young noticed a scattering of pink petals on the ground.  Looking up, we saw a few bedraggled rhododendron blooms still clinging to the bushes.  At least we hadn't totally missed out!

The forest changes as we climb higher

Lucky for us, things just kept getting better.  The higher we climbed, the more frilly pink rhodie flowers we saw in bloom.  Young and I wished there was a way to tell those photography ladies what they were missing.

More rhodie bushes

Our path led through dense woods, with no views whatsoever.  But about 2 1/2 miles up, the forest cleared to provide a rare viewpoint.  Although the adjacent green foothills and ridges were visible, morning clouds kept Mt Hood hidden from sight.

Detour around a slide area

Time to move on!  We had many more miles to cover and elevation to climb.  As Young and I ascended, the forest changed.  We wandered through one thickly wooded area with virtually no plants growing on the forest floor.

Unusual colored leaves

A landslide caused by a fallen tree forced us to detour around the unstable slope.  But that was the only obstacle encountered the entire day.

Finally a viewpoint

About halfway, a second viewpoint atop a rocky ridge made for a good break spot.  Not only were there great views of the adjacent forested hills, the trailside was also full of lovely wildflowers.


Purple penstemon carpeted one area.

Nice rhodie bush

While an adjacent bush sported some huge pink rhodie blooms (if only the camera ladies could see us now!)

Photo op

Good excuse for some photo ops!

The forest floor was bright green

Then our trail dived back into another thick, mysterious forest, carpeted with bright green leafy vegetation.

Trail junction

My guidebook said when we reached a junction with the Plaza Trail, there was only one mile to go.  I was never so happy to see this weathered sign - slowly being consumed by an old, mossy tree.

Enjoying our reward atop Huckleberry Mountain

After struggling up one last steep, rocky slope, Young and finally emerged on top of a bare ridge.  We'd made it!  Time for lunch and some relaxation.

Avalanche lilies on top

Although Young made herself comfortable and was content taking in the tremendous views, I spotted a huge patch of avalanche lilies, and couldn't resist a few photos.

Our gourmet lunch - all that was missing was wine!

Then I settled down beside my friend to enjoy lunch.  Between the two of us, we had quite a spread!  Young brought a thermos of hot tea and gourmet trail mix.  I contributed fresh raspberries, salami, cheese and crackers, and for dessert a few of my favorite Trader Joe's gingerbread men.  We joked all that was missing was a bottle of wine.  Next hike!

Mt Hood is trying to show herself

The panorama of peaks and valleys one could see from Huckleberry Mountain was impressive.  A fitting reward for such a strenuous climb.

Green ridges

Although clouds still hid Mt Hood from view, the bank started to lift during our lunch break.  By the time Young and I were ready to leave, we began to make out the mountain's base slowly emerging.

Path through the green

Although it would've been nice to stick around and watch the mountain show herself, we had nearly 6 miles and lots of elevation to descend.  Not wanting to get home too late, it was time to head back (besides, a cold beer was calling our names!)

Finally we see Mt Hood!

Although climbing is much harder work, descending is tough on my knees and feet.  After a couple of miles of brutal downhill, my calves and toes were starting to complain.  But another stop at the morning's first viewpoint momentarily made me forget my achy body.  After being skunked on the way up, our return trip rewarded us with the view we were after - Mt Hood finally making an appearance.

One last rhodie (just because)

Then it was an endless trek downhill, through the last of the rhodie bushes.  Although Young and I had seen only a handful of hikers all day, suddenly the woods were full of people.  Who starts out on a hike at 3:30 in the afternoon?

Beautifully carved benches

The trailhead and it's lovely bathroom were a sight for sore eyes.  Not only a good place to clean up after a long sweaty hike, there was even a drinking fountain with ice cold water (so appreciated since our bottles left in the car were as warm as bathwater).  And tired hikers could rest their aching bodies on some beautifully carved benches.

I survived my second steep hike in as many weeks.  Beautiful forests, amazing views and rhodies galore, the Boulder Ridge Trail delivered.  Now.....time for that beer!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Blue Beauties

One day in early June I was finishing a morning run in my neighborhood when a patch of lovely flowers caught my attention.  Growing wild in a roadside ditch, I was instantly captivated by their unique range of blue-violet hues.

Of course I had to return with my camera.

Being terrible at plant identification, I had no idea what these flowers were (probably weeds).  But I loved the colors, and knew these blooms would make wonderful images. 

Most of the time I'm traveling long distances, hiking up mountains, or tromping through forests to find and photograph the wonders of nature.....and here these insanely gorgeous wildflowers were growing a mere four blocks from home.

Moral of the story - don't forget about the beauty in your own backyard.

Sharing with:  Through My Lens

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Kings Mountain

Oregon's Coast Range lies between the populated Willamette River Valley and Pacific Ocean.  Although much lower in elevation than the Cascades (it's more well-known cousin), this humble chain of peaks hosts a bounty of flora and fauna.  It also offers a wide variety of hiking trails.  Surprisingly, some rival the Columbia River Gorge in their steepness and difficulty. 

Excellent signage

One such trail is the trek up Kings Mountain.  Ascending 2800 feet in a mere 2.7 miles, it has the reputation as an arse-kicking conditioning hike.  Combining this trail with a climb up nearby Elk Mountain creates a challenging traverse, gaining 3500 feet elevation in nearly 12 grueling miles.

The forest was full of ferns

I'd heard lots about trails up these two peaks, but for some reason had never checked them out for myself.  I really had no excuse - the trailhead was a mere 40 mile drive from my house, and I didn't have to fight Portland traffic to get there.


Finally one Sunday in early June, the opportunity presented itself.  I really wanted to fit in a hike, but had a morning commitment.  Then I remembered the Kings Mountain Trail.  It had everything I was looking for - short drive with minimal traffic, challenging climb, but reasonable distance (since I'd be starting midday).  And...I heard the wildflowers were blooming.  Perfect!  Time to check Kings Mountain off my list.

Still a long ways to go

The air was warm and humid as I pulled my car into the last available trailhead parking space.  Starting out in a thick forest filled with bright green ferns, I quickly came upon my first trail junction.  Impressed by the nearly new signs, I had no trouble finding the correct path to Kings Mountain.

Making progress

As I was to find out, the trails climbing Kings and Elk Mountains were maintained by the Mazamas, a Portland Mountaineering Club.

Unusual tree bark

Then the climbing began!  My path rocketed upward, and I soon found myself sweating and gasping for breath.

A picnic table near the summit!

The lower forests were full of wildflowers.  I noticed monkeyflowers, bleeding hearts, tiny candyflowers, and some unusual brown blossoms that looked like tiny tubes.  But once I passed the 1500 foot elevation mark (helpfully noted by a sign on a nearby tree) the flowers disappeared.

Views I worked hard for

After that point, my journey became a long, sweaty slog through endless woods.  The path alternated between steep and steeper.  Often I felt as if I was barely moving.  Yes, "challenge" was a good description of this hike!


The trail passed through several different vegetative zones.  The Coast Range mountains catch a lot of moisture that blows in off the Pacific Ocean, creating lush, dense forests, with unique plant life.

Slopeside flower garden

And then, I was nearing the summit, when I came upon a picnic table in a small clearing.  Now that's something one doesn't often see at the top of a mountain!  The inscription near the bottom stated the table was built as a Boy Scout's Eagle Project.  I couldn't imagine hauling all the wood and tools needed to assemble that table up such a steep trail!

Summit register

After a bit more huffing and puffing, and sliding on another steep, rocky slope, I emerged into a wide clearing.  Wildflowers dotted the nearby cliff faces.  Forested hills spread out below me.  I was almost there!


Wildflowers were blooming in force!  The final quarter mile to the summit proper took much longer due to numerous photo breaks.

Indian Paintbrush

But finally I located the summit sign, and after a quick cellphone selfie, opened the tube inside and signed a notebook that served as the summit register.

Sweeping views

Then it was time to relax and take in the tremendous views.

Flowers decorated the mountaintop

I'd heard one could see the ocean from Kings Mountain's summit, however the day's cloudy skies prevented any far-reaching vistas.  The rounded mountains of the Coast Range spread out below.  Although most of the terrain was thickly wooded, sadly, ugly clear cuts marred several nearby hills.  Logging has historically been the predominant land use here. 

One lone tuft of beargrass

Logging was the cause of the most infamous forest fire in the Coast Range.  In August of 1933, logging work ignited a huge fire that burned 240,000 acres.  Know as the Tillamook Burn, it allegedly destroyed 200,000 of these acres in just 24 hours.  Thankfully a huge reforestation project restored many of the burned areas, and the damage is no longer noticeable.

Tiny forest flower

I was surprised to see a large number of people straggling up to the summit.  As I rested on top, a steady stream of  hikers passed by in both directions.  I even met several groups that were doing the entire Elk-King traverse.  Going back down, I leapfrogged with a group of women that had already climbed Elk Mountain and were now on the homestretch of their journey.  Hats off to those ladies!

Huge ferns

After a wonderful rest, snack, and attempt to capture all the wildflowers with my camera, it was time to descend.  A quick tightening of my bootlaces, and I was ready to tackle some downhill for a change!

Bleeding heart

After struggling uphill for over two hours, the first bit of descent felt great.  But I think going downhill is much harder on the body than climbing, and it didn't take long before my quads and feet began to protest.  The trailhead couldn't come fast enough!

Very weird flower!

Of course once I reentered the lower "flower zone" again, I took quite a few photo (aka rest) breaks to capture some more images of the unique flowers inhabiting this coastal rainforest.  But don't get me wrong - I was mighty happy when the parking lot, and my car finally came into view!

Lush forest near the trailhead

A genuine challenge, so close to home!  I loved the lush, fern-filled forests full of wildflowers and the sweeping summit views.  With a bit more conditioning, I'd love to try the Elk-King traverse someday.

Oh......and I forgot to turn my off my gps when I got into the car and drove home, so it registered a grand total of 46 miles hiked that day!  :)