Thursday, August 31, 2017

Crescent Mountain

Trudging up the steep path through a hot, humid, seemingly endless forest, I thought to myself  "This had better be worth it."

Bridge over Maude Creek

In mid-July I talked my hubby into a weekend camping trip near Central Oregon's Mt Jefferson.  We decided to visit our favorite Forest Service campground on the banks of the North Santiam River.  Half of it's sites were first come, first serve, perfect for last-minute folks like us.  I had the Friday off, while dear hubby had to work until noon.  Fearing all the campsites would be claimed by afternoon, we hatched a plan where I'd drive up early Friday morning, secure a site, and then be free to go hiking.  Hubby would follow later in the day with the lion's share of the gear, coolers of food, and of course, the beer!

Cascade Lilies

Our plan worked perfectly.  I was able to snag a gorgeous secluded riverside campsite (timing is everything - I came upon it right after the previous night's occupant had vacated).  After erecting our tent and setting up a few chairs around the fire ring, (to signal that the site was taken) my work here was done.  Time to hit the trail!

Dried beargrass stalks

One of the hikes I'd been wanting to cross off my list was the trek up nearby Crescent Mountain.  A challenging climb to a large open ridge, this area had a reputation for stunning early summer beargrass displays.  Although various hiking websites indicated the peak bloom had happened a couple of weeks ago, I was game to see what flowers might still be around.

Scarlet Gilia

So I drove about 20 miles from the campground, turned onto a nice (paved even!) Forest Service road and traveled a short distance on another good gravel road.  I was a tiny bit worried that the trailhead might be full, but upon arrival its large parking area was totally deserted.  Locking the car and shouldering my pack, I could feel the day's temperature already on the rise.  It was gonna be a toasty one!

Beargrass and lupine

The trail started out mellow enough with an easy downhill mile to lovely Maude Creek.  But after crossing it's ample wooden footbridge, things changed in a hurry.

A few daisies

The path climbed steeply through dense, viewless woods.  Both the temperature and humidity began to rise, turning my trek into a sweaty slog.  There were no flowers to speak of, and besides the forest, nothing interesting to see.  Slowly I puffed along, wiping my brow.  It was the longest 2.5 miles I think I've ever hiked!

Finally some views!

But finally, I spotted some gorgeous Cascade Lilies, their fragrant blooms sweetening the air.  As the trail wound past this lily  patch, I noticed  more color on the adjacent hillside.  The forest appeared to be receding.

Colorful slope

I came out onto an open ridgecrest.  Views of the adjacent rounded hills spread out before me.  Bright purple lupine covered the open slopes, accented by orange Scarlet Gilia.  It was sure nice to see something besides forest.

Lupine was in prime shape

I'd definitely hit the height of the lupine bloom.  The tall purple flowers were everywhere!   But as predicted, the beargrass was nearly done.  All that remained were the tall stalks, which I thought were scenic in their own way.  Judging by the large number of stalks, I could tell the rumors of plentiful beargrass blooms were true.

Lots of mountains to be seen from the summit (Hood and Jefferson)

The meadows were chock-full of colorful flowers.  Beside lupine, I noticed lots of yellow Oregon sunshine, asters, daisies, a few paintbrush, and some pretty unknown pink flowers.  Even though the beargrass was done, the rest of this colorful bloom more than made up for it.

Mt Washington and Three Sisters

The next mile was slow as I wandered through the meadows, snapping copious photographs.

Not a bad lunch view!

Finally, the trail led me through a small wooded area sporting a few straggler beargrass blooms.  Then I climbed a steep spur trail that came out on Crescent Mountain's summit.  Yahoo!  My climbing was finally done!  Time for a good, long lunch break.

This butterfly loved my backpack

Foundations from an old lookout tower were all that remained on Crescent Mountain's rocky apex.  But the views were grand.  To the north, I spotted Mts Hood and Jefferson.  To the east, Mts Washington, Three Sisters, and Black Butte.  Although sunny and hot, the day's clear skies made for some spectacular mountain panoramas.

I think it was after my water hose

The early afternoon heat had brought the insects out in droves.  Dozens of colorful butterflies flitted around the summit.  Try as I might, they wouldn't sit still long enough for me to get a photo.  But then I noticed a couple of them hanging on my backpack's water hose.  The butterflies must have been thirsty, because they didn't move an inch.  Finally, I was able to snatch a couple images of these beautiful creatures.

Benchmark on Crescent Mtn summit

Rest, food and hydration were just what my body needed!  After a nice long relaxing break, I shooed the butterflies off my backpack and prepared for the long, steep descent.

Backlit beargrass poofs

I lingered in the flower-filled meadow as long as I could.  It was just as nice the second time around, and I'm sure about the same number of images were captured on the return trip.  The meadows were full of butterflies and it was a delight to watch them soar through the blooms.

Three Sisters view on the return trip

Both Mt Washington and the Three Sisters were front and center as I traveled back down.  Afternoon light was perfect for some nice captures.

Mt Washington

But finally, I had to bid these wonderful meadows farewell, and endure a long punishing descent back down the boring, steep trail.  It seemed to go on forever......there was nothing to see but trees, and the temps hadn't cooled down in the least.  About halfway down I encountered the only other hikers I'd seen all day, a couple heading up.  When finally reaching Maude Creek again, I was so hot I soaked a bandana in it's cool waters and tied it around my neck for some relief.

Lovely pink unknown flowers

Then I trudged uphill on a hot, dusty trail.  I swore that the trail stretchers had been out....a mile never seemed so long.  All I could think about was the cold beer waiting for me back at our campsite (at least I hoped my hubby was there by now).

The only butterfly who sat still

Although the first three miles weren't very exciting, the fantastic bloom in Crescent Mountain's upper meadows and the panorama of peaks at the top made this hot slog worthwhile.  Now it was time to head back to our sweet riverside campsite.....and plan tomorrow's hiking adventure.

Which I'll write about in my next post!

Stats:  9 miles round trip, 2200 feet elevation gain

Sharing with:  Through My Lens

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Path of (almost!) Totality

As you may know, the recent solar eclipse passed straight through the middle of Oregon.  For months, I'd been hearing nothing but predictions about the millions of people who would be traveling to our state for the big event.  The media broadcast dire warnings about overcrowded freeways, campgrounds and hotels, and also food and gas shortages etc, etc.......I was so sick of hearing about the stupid eclipse I couldn't wait until it was over so life could return to normal.

My office-mates and I model our eclipse glasses

Afraid of being caught in the traffic nightmares, most folks in the Portland Metro area planned to take the day off work.  The path of totality was about 40 miles to the south, so the expectation was that a huge amount of people would wake up and travel that direction Monday morning.

August 21st, the day of the big eclipse, I got up per normal and went to work.  Not having the required protective glasses, I planned to just peek out the window when time came to see if things went dark.  All the gloom and doom about traffic nightmares, and my commute was surprisingly easy.  There was hardly anyone on the roads, and the light rail train nearly empty.  Upon arrival at work, my friend Hollie asked if I'd join her outside to watch the eclipse.  She happened to have an extra pair of eclipse glasses.  Our office was a ghost town that day, so I decided why not?

Huge crowd in Waterfront Park

Hollie decided to walk 4 blocks to the Willamette River and stand on the Hawthorne Bridge, the closest open area to our office.  The eclipse was supposed to start around 9:06 am so we planned to head down shortly thereafter.  We invited Jake, one of our summer interns to join us (we were nearly the only three people at work that day).

In downtown Portland, the west bank of the Willamette River is lined by Waterfront Park, a wonderful green oasis in this dense urban environment.  As we ascended the Hawthorne Bridge's ramp, I was amazed to see a huge crowd already gathered in the park.  One local radio station had set up a sound system and was broadcasting lovely classical music.

Lots of people on the Hawthorne Bridge

The three of us donned our special glasses, looked up at the sun, and were astounded to see the eclipse already underway.  The moon had begun to move over the sun, taking a small "bite" out of it.  As things progressed, the sun began to look more and more like a pac-man.  Jake tried to use his cell phone to take a photo through his glasses.

Totally unprepared for the day (and not planning to watch the eclipse) I hadn't even brought a camera with me, and had only my cell phone to document this event.  Doh!

More crowd scenes from Waterfront Park

In between peeps of the rapidly shrinking sun through our glasses, we entertained ourselves watching the crowds.  It was quite a mix in the park - office people sneaking a break from their jobs, families, street people, even one parks bureau employee who sat on a nearby gas meter to watch the show. 

Around 10:15, the light started to dim.  It seemed like an overcast day, but the sky was still clear.  Very eerie!  We noticed the street lights had illuminated, and passing vehicles had turned their headlights on.  A cold wind began to blow across the bridge.  It was kind of spooky. 

The streetlights came on!

We gazed in wonder at the sky, totally amazed by what was happening.  The moon now nearly covered the sun, it's light just a mere sliver.  Although not in the path of totality, the eclipse in Portland was supposed to have 99.3% coverage.

After about two very short minutes, the moon began to move again, and the surrounding sky started lightening up.  Some of the crowd in the park below applauded.  And then as if there had been a signal, everyone began heading out of the park.

Mt Hood silhouetted on the darkened skyline

As Hollie, Jake and I walked back to our building, I noticed funny crescent-shaped shadows on the sidewalk.  It wasn't until later, seeing photographs on Facebook, that I realized those shadows were the eclipsing sun filtered through the trees.  Very cool phenomenon.  Wish I would've thought to take a photo!

Although I initially pooh-poohed the whole eclipse thing, in the end I'm very glad to have taken the time to experience it.  What a mesmerizing, unique, awesome natural event!  Now I understand why it's such a big deal.  Since the next total eclipse in the US passes right over Cincinnati, where one of my brothers lives, I may just have to go check it out.

Thanks Hollie for getting me out of the office!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Bloggers Finally Meet!

One of the best things about having a blog is reading stories from all the fascinating bloggers out there.  Many I've "known" for years, trading comments on each other's posts.  But it's rare to actually meet one in person.

Well.....the weekend before last I got my chance.

Mary and I at the PCT in Cascade Locks

I've always admired Mary from The Mountains are Calling.  She's a writer, former wildland fire fighter, ex-wilderness ranger, and superstar PCT section hiker (just to name a few).  Although she's an Oregonian like me, we lived on opposite ends of the state.  Then this summer Mary learned she would be temporarily residing in Central Oregon.  This was my opportunity - I'd probably never be any closer.  We traded emails and promised to connect next time I traveled her way.

Mary's been section hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) every chance she gets.  One of the portions she needed to complete was between Cascade Locks (in the Columbia River Gorge) south to Olallie Lake.  I offered to give her a ride to the Cascade Locks trailhead from Central Oregon the weekend before last.  We had a great trip, and it was fun to chat with another blogger I've followed for so long.

Mary's latest post recaps this particular section hike.  She traveled 20-24 miles per day for four long days, plus an 8-mile trek the afternoon I dropped her off.  (Wow!  And I whine when I dayhike two 10 mile days in a row....Told you she was a superstar)

And....Mary is also a published author.  Her book "The Geography of Water" was nominated for the 2017 Oregon Book Awards for fiction.  I've read her book and it's very good.  She writes beautifully - wish I had her way with words.  Mary also has a second book coming out in September called "Fire in the Heart" which is a memoir detailing her experiences as a wildland firefighter.  I can't wait to read it!

So - everyone please visit Mary's blog (link here) and leave her a comment.  Or read her book(s).  Or do both!

Nice to meet you, Mary.  Here's hoping we meet again on a trail somewhere.

Friday, August 18, 2017

"Flowervention" on Silver Star Mountain

Two hikes in one weekend!  What was I thinking?  I awoke Sunday morning to a tired, stiff body and was seriously questioning my sanity.  But I'd promised my new hiking buddy Catherine a trip to Washington's Silver Star Mountain, and I wasn't about to go back on my word.


Saturday I'd enjoyed a wonderful 10-mile trek through wildflower fields dotting Mt Hood's SE flank (if you missed the recap read about it right here).  Hungry for more bloom-peeping, I'd ambitiously asked Catherine to join me for another hike the very next day.

Catherine admires the colorful flowers

It didn't take long for my enthusiasm to win over my body's achy protests.  After all, I was visiting Silver Star Mountain - the premier wildflower hotspot in SW Washington.  And I'd heard nothing but glowing reports about this year's massive bloom.

Slope full 'o daises

Luckily, my initial hike with Catherine to Mt St Helens hadn't scared her off, and she was willing to join me on another ramble.

Hiking around Pyramid Rock

Although as the crow flies Silver Star Mountain isn't far from the Portland Metro area, visitors must travel a series of winding country lanes and rough gravel roads to gain access.  Hikers have a choice of two trailheads - Ed's Trail on the north and Grouse Creek Vista to the south.  Although Ed's Trail is my favorite path up the mountain, it's horrific rocky access road is not.  To spare my sanity (and car!) I chose to start our hike at Grouse Creek Vista.

More paintbrush

Mid-July is prime wildflower (and crowds) season, so we got an early start, and rolled into the trailhead parking area by 8:30.  My plan was to take an old, rocky road that was now a hiking trail 3.5 miles to Silver Star's summit.  From the summit, we'd loop around and follow Ed's Trail before descending the Tarbell Trail back to the car.

Green ridges spread out in all directions

Catherine and I trudged up the rocky road.  The first mile was fairly steep, and we were thankful for the day's overcast skies and cooler temperatures.  Thick forest lined our road, so there wasn't much to see.  That changed in a big hurry.

Views from Silver Star's summit

About a mile and a half into our hike, the forest began to clear until we came out onto an open slope.  Views stretched forever.  I could see the foothills with their patchwork-quilt pattern of forests and clear cuts (thanks to logging).  Up ahead Silver Star's summit rose before us, our immediate goal.

Unique pink flowers

But - oh the flowers!  Both sides of the trail were packed with colorful blooms.  Orange Indian paintbrush dominated, but white daisies, lupine, and an unknown yellow flower were close seconds.  All forward progress ground to a halt.

Fabulous flower show

Catherine was amazed.  Her first time to Silver Star, she'd never seen such a concentration of wildflowers.  We spent so much time photographing, she joked we might need a "flower intervention" (aka "flowervention") or our families would be sending search parties to look for us.

Best display yet

But finally we tore ourselves away from the beauty and continued on, past conical shaped Pyramid Rock, and back into the forest for the final mile climb .

We came out on the saddle between Silver Star's twin summits.  Despite still-cloudy skies, breathtaking views abounded.  Green ridges stretched out in multiple directions.  Flowers bloomed in the open meadows below.

Look who's coming out of the clouds??

Choosing the northerly peak, I was pleased to find only one woman sitting atop.  But we'd no sooner dropped our packs, when a group of men arrived.  On their heels was another hiking party.  And another....And another..... In the span of 10 minutes I counted 30 people packed onto Silver Star's small summit area.  This definitely wasn't the place to find solitude!  The noise and chaos got to be too much, so Catherine and I cut our break short.

Wide-open panoramas

Thanks to numerous online hiking websites, Silver Star has become a wildly popular destination.  As Catherine and I trekked back down from its summit, we passed a steady stream of people crawling to the top.  The majority appeared to be coming from Ed's Trail.  Amazed that so many people were willing to brave that awful road, Catherine started asking people about their drive in.  One couple admitted the potholes were so bad they'd parked their car and walked the road two miles just to reach the trailhead.

And, yes, more flowers

After touching the summit, I directed Catherine down another old roadbed, heading northeast towards Ed's Trail.  We came out into another clearing and the flower show was at it's colorful best.  More paintbrush, lupine, yellow Oregon sunshine, daisies.....oh the list went on and on...Truly the best wildflower display yet!  (Might there be another flowervention happening soon??)


More frantic photography ensued (mostly by me).  Catherine noticed a couple climbing a small rise, and wanting to see what was going on, followed them up the flower-filled knoll.  On top was a drop-dead gorgeous view of Mt. St. Helens, slowly emerging out of the morning's clouds.

Lots of pink wildflowers

The skies were beginning to clear, and this open ridge was the best place to see three Washington Cascade peaks lining the skyline - Adams, Rainier, and St Helens.  As Catherine and I wandered down this rocky road to clearing skies, the views just kept getting better.  Wildflowers and snow-capped mountains - perfect!

Mt St Helens and Rainier anchor the skyline

At the junction between the road and Ed's Trail, Catherine and I came upon a break in the ridgeline that framed Mt Hood perfectly.  We decided this was a great place to have lunch.

Photo ops abound

Properly refueled, we then tackled the gradual uphill climb along Ed's Trail.  One of my most favorite places to hike, I kept looking back at the panorama of peaks along the horizon.  The wide-open meadows here were the result of the Yacolt Burn - the largest forest fire in Washington state's history.  This fire burned so hot that trees have failed to reseed and grow.  But...the silver lining was that the fire created these fabulous wildflower meadows we were enjoying today.

Amazing wide-open vistas from Ed's Trail

Ho hum.....more wonderful wildflower displays......I was starting to get floral overload!

Catherine admires the view

The mountains and now-clear skies made for some great photo ops.  And because I like people in my shots, Catherine became my model.  (She's learned when you hike with me you get included in lots of pictures.)

The famous rock arch

We passed through the famous rock arch, along crumbly steep slopes, and up a rocky cliff (about 15 feet of vertical climbing - it was fun!)

Mt Hood sighting

Soon we were back at the junction below Silver Star's summit once again.  Seven miles covered thus far, it was time for the homestretch to the trailhead.  Decision time - did we take the longer, less scenic, Tarbell Trail and make a loop, or the rocky road we'd followed this morning?

I managed to catch one butterfly standing still

The decision was unanimous - the flower fields had been so lovely, both Catherine and I wanted to see them a second time around.  Plus, compared to the Tarbell Trail, this route was about a mile and a half shorter.

Back through the flower zone

So back through the amazingly beautiful flower zone we traveled!  By now, the afternoon heat had brought out the insects, and hundreds of colorful butterflies floated through the blooms.  It was fun to watch them swoop and dive.  One butterfly seemed to follow me as I walked along the trail.  What a great way to end such a wonderful day!

Purple lupine patch

Second consecutive day of hiking, another 10 miles logged, and I felt just fine.  Maybe I need to do less working and more wildflower hiking!  (Of course, that might lead to another "flowervention.")   :)

Sharing with:  Through My Lens