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

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Elk Meadows

Fourth of July week was spent visiting family back in South Dakota.  I had a great time seeing my parents, siblings (all 6 of us got together for my Dad's 80th birthday!), nieces, nephews, and aunt.  (Not to mention both my kids got time off work and were able to come)  But 10 days in a hot, dry prairie climate had me longing for the cool green forests of the Pacific NW - and my favorite mountain.

Wonderful Mt Hood view in Elk Meadows

So the first weekend back from vacation I decided to make up for lost time, planning hikes both Saturday and Sunday.  Chatting about this ambitious itinerary with my podiatrist the Friday before, she asked how my body held up after two consecutive days on the trail.  My response - "I guess I'll find out."

Crossing Newton Creek

Thanks to a glowing PortlandHikers trip report - featuring fantastic wildflower blooms on the Elk Meadows trail and the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort - I plotted a copycat hike for Saturday.  Rising early in hopes to avoid crowds landed me at the trailhead by 8:30 that morning.


A path I've traversed many times before, the Elk Meadows Trail began in a fir forest along Mt. Hood Meadows' access road.  Crossing Clark Creek on a well-built log footbridge, in no time I was meandering down the sandy slopes of Newton Creek, my next challenge.


Newton Creek has no bridge and is notoriously tricky to cross.  Fueled by glacial melt, it roars to life on hot summer afternoons.  Although only early morning, the stream looked mighty intimidating to this chicken hiker. 

Gorgeous Cascade Lily (that smelled heavenly)

So I wandered up and down it's banks, searching for a good spot to hop across.  A few downed trees looked promising, but wet and slippery bark caused me to resume my search.  I noticed a man and his daughters approaching the creek.  They headed upriver and began to inch themselves across on a large log perched high above the rushing water.

Frog on the trail

Now I'm not fond of balancing myself on a high log over a raging glacial stream.  But there didn't appear to be a better option.  So I began walking over to the same crossing point.  Then I spied a lower log just downstream of the other.  Now that I could handle! 

Elk Meadows perimeter trail

Whew - crossing Newton Creek became an easy shuffle.  With that behind me, I made my way via the string of cairns on the opposite bank to the trail's continuation.  Now it was time to climb up the other side.

Luscious green meadows

And climb I did!  Ascending nearly 1000 feet in a short mile, I huffed and puffed up eight long switchbacks.  Although a challenging slog, the multitude of lovely wildflowers blooming trailside provided a nice distraction.  There were columbine, lupine, pentstemon, and even a few beautiful white Cascade lilies decorating the forest.  The Cascade lilies smelled wonderful.

Lupine a-plenty

I traded places with another hiking group several times - I'd stop and take a photo, then they'd stop to rest.  Finally, I was near the top of my climb when I saw something moving across the trail.  Turned out to be a frog.  The little creature held still long enough for several photos, and then stayed put for the other hikers who'd caught up to me once again.

Lots of color in these meadows

Not far from the frog sighting, I came upon the beginning of Elk Meadow's loop trail.  The path made a wide circle around these famously gorgeous meadows.  Which direction to go?  Impulsively I chose clockwise.

Elephant head

Starting off through a forest of mossy trees, I followed the trail as it wound around Elk Meadow's forested perimeter.  Keeping my eyes peeled for one of the paths leading into the meadows themselves, I plodded along.

Oregon Sunshine

After a half mile of scrambling through the forest and around several small drainageways, I noticed a faint footpath meandering through the grass.  Tired of the forest, I was ready to see some wildflowers.


I left the forest and entered a vibrant green meadow.  And joy of joys, it was full of hundreds of colorful blooms!

Hood view from mid-meadow

Bright pink elephanthead flowers on tall stalks burst from the ground.  Further towards the forest, huge patches of purple lupine and yellow Oregon sunshine blooms added their hues to the mix.  And best of all, there were killer views of Mt Hood from Elk Meadows' very center.

The one butterfly I managed to capture

Tons of butterflies flitted about.  I tried my darnedest to capture them with my camera, but only managed to get one orange beauty to stop long enough.

Monkeyflowers on Newton Creek bank

Elk Meadows is a popular place for backpackers to set up camp.  Strolling through the meadow, I passed a couple campsites set up in the adjacent woods.  Stopping at one lovely site not in use, I took the opportunity to enjoy a quick snack break and watch the Gray Jays as they eyed my lunch.

I crossed on the low log

Then it was back down the steep ridge to Newton Creek once again.  As expected, it was roaring at a much higher volume than the morning's crossing.  But I located my favorite low log, and this time traversing was a piece of cake.

Lovely downstream view

Several patches of pink and yellow monkeyflowers brightened up Newton Creek's desolate banks.  Midday light illuminated them nicely, and I couldn't resist a few shots of the scene.

Cheery pink monkeyflowers

But my hike wasn't over yet - I'd planned to add a few extra miles by looping over to Umbrella Falls via the trail through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area.  Rumor had it the lupine bloom was going strong under it's ski lifts.

More Cascade lilies!

Having hiked this trail in reverse several times, I knew it would be a stiff uphill trek to the Hood River Meadows (HRM) lift.  And the day wasn't getting any cooler.  Still, wanting to see those wildflowers, I was willing to tackle the climb.

Indian paintbrush

Oh was it a slog!  The trail didn't have much shade, and bright sun beat down upon me.  Not a fan of hot weather, I slowly trudged up the dusty path.  Luckily, patches of Indian Paintbrush and more fragrant Cascade lilies kept me going.

The lupine was thick on Mt Hood Meadows' slopes

And then I reached the lupine zone.  Huge fields of purple stretched across the trail.  Yeah - this was what I'd come for!

Purple spot under the HRM lift

It's always fun to see your favorite ski hill in the off season.  Mt Hood Meadows is one of the loveliest ski areas to hike.  I enjoyed an amazing flower show of lupine and beargrass blooming underneath the HRM lift.

Lupine and beargrass under the ski lift

After wandering through the ski area, I made a short detour to Umbrella Falls.  But the harsh midday light made for terrible photographic conditions, so I ended up turning around and heading back to my car.  Hot and tired, I was ready for an air-conditioned ride home with a stop at Starbucks for cold ice tea!

Mt Hood peeps through the lupine

Lovely mountain views, tons of wildflowers, a memory card full of images, and 10 miles covered, I considered the day a success.  But now it was time to rest up for tomorrow's hike.  I'd invited a friend to join me so no matter how sore and tired I was, there would be no backing out.

Hike No. 2 report on the next post!