Sunday, September 17, 2017

Canyon Creek Meadows (with a broken toe)

The evening after my Oregon Coast hike to Cape Falcon, I accidentally slammed my foot into a doorway at  home.  The toe next to my pinky caught the brunt of the impact and immediately swelled up, while the top of my foot turned black and blue.  Just like that, my weekend hiking plans went out the window.


I hoped the toe wasn't broken, as I'd made big plans the following weekend.  Friday, I was driving to Bend, hiking Canyon Creek Meadows on the way, and Saturday I'd signed up to run a 6-mile trail race.

Reflections on Jack Lake

Of course the only way to tell for sure was an x-ray, but there really wasn't anything you could do whether it was broken or not.  So I vetoed seeing a doctor.  Instead, I limped around for a week, hoping things would magically get better.  Thursday night I saw some fabulous photos on a local hiking website from a recent trip to Canyon Creek Meadows.  The lupine was in full bloom and it looked incredible.  That did it.  Friday I was hiking there, sore toe or not!

Dew-spangled lupine

Canyon Creek Meadows is a beautiful alpine meadow at the foot of Three Fingered Jack Mountain.  Located on the eastern fringe of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, it was barely outside the Whitewater wildfire's closure area.  This fire had been raging for two weeks, consuming vast portions of forest, with no sign of stopping.

Three Fingered Jack rises above an alpine meadow

So that mid-August Friday I woke up ungodly early and made the three-hour drive to Canyon Creek Meadow's trailhead at Jack Lake.  I drove by a very smoky Detroit Lake (which necessitated turning car headlights back on) and caught the fire crew's vehicle convoy heading out from their camp near Santiam Pass to the front lines of the Whitewater fire (I sent those brave folks good vibes and silent thank yous as they drove by).

Lotsa lupine in the upper meadows

I pulled into Jack Lake's parking lot at 8:30 sharp.  Being a weekday, there were only a few cars already.  Stuffing my feet into hiking boots, I noticed my swollen toe wasn't too happy about being confined.  Hoping it would loosen up as I walked, I shouldered my backpack and headed towards the trailhead.

The mountain, up close and personal

The trail started out following the shoreline of Jack Lake.  This tiny water body sat in an area that burned in a 2003 wildfire.  Ghostly silver dead trees rimmed it's shores, making nice reflections in the calm waters.  I stopped to take a few images before moving on.

Bands of color in the rock

I'd just passed the wilderness boundary sign when my foot started complaining.  Wedged into my boot, the sore toe was not happy.  I stopped to loosen my bootlaces, and while I was at it, downed a couple of ibuprofen.  Hopefully that would keep things under control for awhile.

Glacial cirque lake at TFJ base

The path climbed gradually, through an area of burned-out trees.  I spied a smoky outline of Mt Jefferson through their silver trunks.  I then passed through a lovely meadow of tiny lupine, their leaves spangled with sparkling dewdrops.

Magenta paintbrush

About two miles in, I came to a junction with the trail that led hikers to Canyon Creek's scenic meadows.  Crossing Canyon Creek, I could see Three Fingered Jack's outline rising above the trees.

Huge field of lupine

A little more climbing, a bit more wandering through several green meadows containing withered remnants of what looked to have been an impressive wildflower bloom.  Then I climbed a ridge, trekked through a forest, and came out into the grand meadow I remembered from my last visit five years ago.  Three Fingered Jack rose like a wall above the forest.  Lupine bloomed in the green meadow.  A calendar-worthy shot!  It looked like something you'd see in Switzerland.  (Although there's no photographic evidence, I did have a "Sound of Music" moment)


But the best was yet to come.  Traversing the wonderful alpine scene, I passed through another grove of trees, and on the other side was a huge meadow right below Three Fingered Jack.  And it was chock-full of lupine.

Smoke begins to obscure the mountain

Wow!  Best lupine bloom this year!  But Three Fingered Jack loomed above, beckoning.  From my previous visit, I knew there was a pretty glacial cirque lake in the gravelly moraine at it's base.  I really wanted to see that first, so I decided to climb up the moraine.

Colorful meadow

It was a tough climb.  The loose gravel was treacherous.  I'd take one step up and slide a half step back.  I had to be careful my footing, as some of the rocks would slide out under my feet.  It was kind of like climbing on a slope of ball bearings.  At one point, I slipped and landed hard on my knees.  But I picked myself up and kept going.  Finally, I found myself on top of the moraine.  I rested, had a snack, and enjoyed the views of the tiny lake nestled in between the moraine and the mountain.  It was still mostly covered in snow. 

Time for your close-up!

Although the views were fabulous from this high perch, the weather was not.  Strong winds buffeted the mountain, blowing silt in my face.  Although I'd been lucky to have clear skies thus far, I began to smell smoke.  The northern skies started looking hazy.  As I was beginning to climb down, a band of smoke began to drift into the area, darkening the air and ruining my view of Three Fingered Jack.

Lots of butterflies

My sore toe had been behaving itself thus far.  I don't know if the ibuprofen finally kicked in or it became numbed by the walking, but it wasn't bothering me much.  Then, as I was descending the moraine, both feet slid out from under me.  I came down hard on my bad foot.  That inured toe took the entire impact.  I could feel it wrenching under me, moving in a way toes aren't supposed to move.

I couldn't talk, couldn't yell, couldn't swear.  All I could do was gasp in pain.

Yellow flowers beside a stream

Oh no....if it wasn't broken before, I was pretty sure I'd broken it now.  I gingerly limped down the rest of the moraine very slowly.  Making my way through the fantastic lupine field, I saw a tiny stream winding through the middle.  Maybe soaking my foot in it's cold waters would help a little.


So I took another break, and stuck my aching foot into the stream.  Although not as cold as I expected, it did feel good.  I opened my first aid kit and downed another couple of ibuprofen.  Hopefully the combination of meds and cool water would be enough to enable me to walk the 3.5 miles back to my car.

A cold stream brings relief to my aching toe

After a good 10 minutes in the cold water, I removed my foot, gingerly put my boot back on, and meandered my way back through the meadow.  The flowers were so fantastic, I made frequent photo stops to document it all.  Lupine, magenta paintbrush, asters, yellow Oregon sunshine, and other wildflowers brightened the area, making me temporarily forget my pain.  By now it was early afternoon, and hundreds of beautiful butterflies soared through the flower fields.  Truly a magical place, it was hard to leave.

Pretty blue butterfly

But I needed to get back to my car before my foot got any worse.  So I limped down through the meadows, past tiny Canyon Creek.  At the trail junction, I looked back for one final view of Three Fingered Jack, now almost entirely obscured by smoke.  Then, taking the recommended right hand turn, I followed Canyon creek for the next mile.

Smoke is getting thicker

I didn't remember much above this leg from my previous visit, but it turned out to be a delightful trek along a charming mountain stream, gradually transitioning into another burn zone from the 2003 fire.  Fireweed and white pearly everlasting flowers bloomed underneath the charred, gray trees.

Flowers blooming in old burn area

At the junction with the Wasco Lake trail, I came upon a lovely cascade, spilling over a small rocky outcrop.

Canyon Creek Falls

Then I hobbled down the last leg of my journey, another mile through the burned forest.  Although somber, I was pleased to see a solid mat of green across the forest floor.  Small pine trees, some now almost five feet high, were rising from the ashes.  The trees were almost big enough to begin overtaking the desolate gray burn area.  It cheered me to see this forest coming back to life.

Butterfly on pearly everlasting

About a half mile from Jack Lake I began seeing bushes loaded with ripe, purple huckleberries.  Mmmm!  I picked and snacked as I hiked along.  The berries sweet goodness helped me forget about my foot for a few minutes.


Although the lovely sights and yummy berries helped distract me from my throbbing toe, I was never so happy to see Jack Lake.  A short half mile trek and I was back at my car, tugging off that darned boot, and gratefully sinking into the driver's seat of my car. 

New trees beginning to overtake the burn area

Now - on to Bend, to see my brother and his family.  But sadly, I realized tomorrow's race was not gonna happen.  With my toe swelling and throbbing the way it was, there was no way I could run six miles.  But as a happy alternate, I ended up instead at the Bend Brewfest with my brother and it was much for fun than running.

I wouldn't have my broken toe diagnosed for another month.  Just this week I saw my podiatrist and she confirmed via xrays that it was indeed broken.  (And she wasn't very happy I'd been hiking on it.)

But, I'm still glad I decided to hike the Canyon Creek Meadows loop.  The flowers and mountain views were so spectacular, it was totally worth it - broken toe and all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cape Falcon

The first week of August was a scorcher.  Temps in Portland rose above 100 degrees every day, extremely unusual for this part of Oregon.  The kicker came when Thursday's high hit 105, close to Portland's all-time record.  Enough!  On Friday I decided to escape this inferno with a hike on the cool Oregon coast.

Lush coastal forest

When things heat up in the Willamette River Valley, Portlanders head to the ocean beaches to get relief.  When I pulled into the Oswald West State Park's huge lot that Friday morning, it was a pleasant, foggy 58 degrees.  Heaven!

Fireweed blooming on the beach

There's a few trail choices here, but I decided my hike today would explore Cape Falcon's rugged headlands.

 Short Sand BeachS

After getting my stuff together, I shouldered my pack, crossed under Hwy 101, and followed the path through a lovely uber-green coastal forest of huge spruce trees.  Quite a few surfers joined me on the trail, lugging surfboards and wetsuits.  A half mile later I came upon Short Sand Beach's picturesque cove.

Fireweed along the beach

Although foggy here at the beach, it was lovely nonetheless.  I lingered for several minutes, watching the waves crash on shore and photographing a huge patch of surprise fireweed blooms.

This way to the trail

Then I located a marker for the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT).  My plan was to follow this trail northward to Cape Falcon, and possibly beyond.

Foggy Cape Falcon from Short Sand Beach

From the beach, the OCT's windy path charged upward through lush woods.  Anything but smooth, this first climb forced hikers to navigate over large, bumpy tree roots.

Look out for the tree roots!

I was enjoying the cool, foggy conditions.  I was even comfortable in a long-sleeve shirt!  It seemed like ages since it had been chilly enough to don layers.  Perfect hiking weather.

More trail signs

Oh, how I love coastal forests!  The tall spruce trees, with giant trunks.  The moss draped over their branches, like an old man's beard.  The lush trailside ferns covering the forest floor.

Uber-green forest

There must've been moisture in that heavy fog, as I noticed all the vegetation was covered in misty water droplets.  After so many dry weeks without even a hint of rain, it was a welcome sight!  I didn't even mind that my arms and pant legs got wet shimmying through some of the brushier portions of the trail.

Dewdrops on the leaves

And the dewdrops on nearby leaves and flowers made for fantastic photo ops.

Fireweed bloom sparkling with dew

After two miles of winding along the steep cliffside trail with occasional ocean glimpses through the trees, I came to the trail junction for Cape Falcon itself.  A short trail through a huge field of salal bushes led me to the tip of the headland.

Cape Falcon headland

Lucky for me, the fog retreated upon my arrival.  I was able to enjoy clear views of the craggy rocks and crashing waves below.  Seabirds flitted in and out of the rocky point.  A golden colored slope showed remnants of what appeared to have been an impressive white daisy bloom.  I was about a week too late.

Small cove barely visible through the fog

After a snack and many photos, I decided to continue northward on the OCT.  For the next mile, the trail rounded another scenic cove, visible from occasional viewpoints through the thick forest.  About then the fog decided to roll back in, slowly obscuring cliffs and beaches.

Salal berries

From the final foggy viewpoint, the trail then turned inland, climbing steadily through the woods.  The undergrowth became thicker and began to intrude onto the path.  I also started to encounter lots of blown down trees, requiring scrambling skills to scale over or under.  And of course, everything was covered with dew.

Foggy forest

Although the foggy forest was beautiful, my arms and legs were starting to get soaking wet.  When I stopped, my body became chilled.  Tired of crashing through damp underbrush, I decided it was time to turn around.

Lots of moss!

As I retraced my steps back through the woods, the fog became thicker.

Huge spruce trees in a row

Made for some great photos in the forest, but not so great for capturing shots of the ocean viewpoints.

Another hidden cove

Passing back by the Cape Falcon headland, I decided to check out the views again.  But now the entire headland was shrouded in fog and you couldn't even see the ocean below.  Glad I took so many photos the first time around!

Short Sand Beach through the trees

I'd started my hike fairly early in the morning, and had the trail nearly to myself on the trip in.  But on the return, as I came closer to the trailhead, I encountered more and more people.  It seemed everyone in Portland had woke up and decided to head to Cape Falcon.  I judged my distance from the trailhead by the people's footwear, and when I began to see flip-flops, I knew it was close.

Lots more people here now!

Now Short Sand Beach was packed with people.  Glad I'd spent some time photographing in early morning when it was nearly empty.  I looked back towards fog-covered Cape Lookout one final time before trekking up the trail to my car.

I'm glad Oregon has these refreshingly cool ocean beaches to escape to when things heat up in town.  The best way to spend a hot summer's day!

Stats:  7.5 miles, 800 feet elevation gain.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Pinnacle Ridge

In 2011, a massive wildfire torched Mt Hood's northern flank.  Named the Dollar Lake fire, after a tiny nearby pond (that coincidentally the fire never touched) it burned over 6,000 acres before finally being snuffed out by fall rains. 

This fire burned through the heart of Pinnacle Ridge, one of my favorite northside Hood trails.  I hadn't returned to this area since the fire.  But, hearing that the forest was in full recovery, I recruited two of my hiking buddies to go check things out.

Mt Hood through the burned forest

So one glorious, but hot, late July Saturday found myself, Young, and Steve bouncing down a gravel road bound for the new Pinnacle Ridge Trailhead.  Since the fire, the Forest Service had rerouted portions of this trail, and relocated the trailhead nearly a mile further away from the old one.  My friends and I laced up our boots, slathered on sunscreen, and located the new trailhead sign. 


We started off winding through an unburned forest, but that quickly changed.  Soon, stark gray tree trunks lined our path.  Although somber, there was also lots of green undergrowth sprouting from the forest floor.  Further down the trail, I noticed brilliant pink fireweed brightening up the landscape.  And I now noticed a perfect view of Mt Hood through the bare tree trunks - a new clearing created courtesy of the wildfire.

The old trailhead

After about a mile, Young, Steve and I came upon the old trailhead message board.  It looked as though the fire had touched some of the forest here.  After a quick photo op, we continued our climb through the burn zone.

Climbing through the burn zone

Although sad to see all the trees that burned, there was also a stark beauty to this silver forest. 

Creek crossing

And the higher we climbed, the better the fireweed bloom became (provided lots of photo distractions!)

Lots of fireweed photo ops

I especially liked this backlit stalk.

Backlit fireweed

These bright pink blossoms provided a nice splash of color to the forest floor.

New life from the ashes

But as the morning sun rose higher, the lack of shade in the burn zone became more apparent.  Temps were getting quite toasty!

The pinnacle is visible through the trees

Despite the fire's damage, I recognized much of the trail from the last time I'd hiked it, over 6 years ago. 

Silver forest

I even remembered the trail as it passed through a boggy area, which was still very much intact, and just as muddy.  Here Steve, Young and I lost the trail for a few minutes before we waded back through the muck and retracted our steps.

Surprise avalanche lily bloom

Near the junction with the Timberline Trail (Mt Hood's famous 'round the mountain path) we came upon a huge field full of frilly white avalanche lilies.  A huge surprise, as these flowers typically bloom right after the snow melts and are long gone by late July.

Lunch at Dollar Lake

Although supposedly only 3.5 miles from the trailhead, the Timberline Trail junction seemed to take forever to reach.  Climbing through shadeless woods in the hot sun didn't help.  But finally the sign and trail came into view.  My friends and I celebrated with an impromptu snack break, sitting right on the trail itself.

Magenta paintbrush

Now that we'd reached the Timberline Trail, it was decision time.  Did we hike over to Elk Cove or up to Dollar Lake first?  My friends, wanting a nice lunch spot voted for Dollar Lake.

Fabulous mountain views

So we trekked a short distance up a rocky meadow sporting magenta paintbrush blooms until we came upon the famous water body.  A tiny glacial tarn, round as a silver dollar, it was situated in a beautiful basin with great views of Mt Hood.  My friends and I sat on the shore, admired the scenery, ate lunch, and slapped at the pesky flies that wouldn't leave us alone.

Mt Hood from the Timberline Trail

The flies began to bother all three of us, so lunch was cut short in favor of continuing our hike.  Young, Steve and I climbed back down the ridge and rejoined the Timberline Trail, heading east towards Elk Cove.  The mountain views on the way down were nothing short of spectacular!  A parade of Cascade peaks - Mt Adams, Rainier, and St Helens lined themselves across the horizon.

Dollar Lake fire burn zone

And the scenery just kept getting better....we rounded one bend to a slope chock-full of colorful wildflowers.  Orange paintbrush and fluffy Western Pasque flowers covered the forest floor.

Young can't decide what to photograph first

Poor Young just couldn't decide what to photograph first!  I must admit I had the same problem too....definitely slowed down my hiking pace.

Western Pasque flowers and orange paintbrush

Elk Cove is a gorgeous mountain valley with a clear glacial stream, and reputation for amazing summer wildflower displays.  However, this appeared to be an off-year as the flowers weren't as thick as I'd seen in past visits.  And down by the creek, the flies were so bad, my friends and I didn't linger long.

Back down the Pinnacle Ridge trail

So it was back the way we came, retracing our steps back to the Pinnacle Ridge Trail's junction with the Timberline Trail.

Admiring Mt Adams view

Afternoon sun lit up the adjacent Cascade peaks beautifully.  When we reached the boggy area once again, it's wide clearing provided a great place to take in the mountain panorama.  Can you spot all three mountains in the photo below?  (Hint...Mt St Helens is a gray shadow on the far left next to the tall trees).

Can you spot all three Cascade peaks?

Then it was back down the endless trail through hot, dusty, shadeless forest.  Young and I kept our spirits up by discussing what brewpub we'd visit for our traditional after-hike beer.

Aster bloom

As I mentioned in the prior post, this past weekend my beloved Columbia River Gorge was the victim of a huge wildfire.  All week I watched the news in despair, thinking of it's lovely mossy forests now forever destroyed by flames.  But going through photos from this Pinnacle Ridge hike made me realize forests do recover, plants and flowers return, and sometimes new vistas are opened up.  So I hold out hope that when the fires are out, although altered, the Gorge trails just might have some new and interesting sights to see.

Great day with good friends

Good to see an old favorite trail rising from the ashes!  Eleven miles traveled, 2100 feet of elevation gain, and a fun day in the woods with my friends.