Thursday, October 26, 2017

Umbrella Falls Trail Autumn Color Show

Autumn colors were out in force on the flanks of Mt Hood.  But I'd been good, sitting out hiking for two entire weeks to let my broken toe heal.  However, once reports of turning leaves hit social media I just couldn't stay home any longer.  I've never missed the local mountain's annual color show, and wasn't about to start.

Dew-speckled golden leaves

Luckily for me, there's a few shorter Mt Hood hikes that deliver in the fall color department.  One of my favorites is the Umbrella Falls Trail.  A short 4.5 mile jaunt through scenic huckleberry fields, this trails packs a lot of bang for your buck, featuring Mt Hood views and a spectacular waterfall.

A few green huckleberry leaves left

Fearing crowds, I got an early start one chilly October morning, and was pulling into the trailhead by 8:30.  The color show started almost immediately, and I wasted several minutes photographing morning dewdrops on a bunch of colorful huckleberry leaves.

Red huckleberry leaves

Then I climbed uphill through fir woods lined with more huckleberry bushes showing off their fall finery.

The locals

I even spotted a group of the locals having breakfast.

"What's the weird lady doing?"

Of course, they were just as interested in me as I was with them ("What's that weird lady with a camera doing?").

Footbridge at Umbrella Falls

After two easy miles, I spotted the cute log footbridge next to Umbrella Falls.

Sunlit huckleberry leaves

The surrounding forest was a kaleidoscope of colors.  Umbrella falls itself wasn't too shabby either.  A beautiful stair-stepped cascade, it fanned out across the rocky cliff face.

Umbrella Falls in all her glory

From lots of trial and error, I've learned that cloudy days are the best for waterfall photography.  Although skies were overcast most of the way up, the sun decided to break out right before my arrival.  Doh!

Falling water close-up

I set up my tripod anyway, and got a few good shots in the shady portions.  But when the sun occasionally ducked behind a cloud, I clicked my shutter like a madman.

A splash of fall

I spent a good hour walking around Umbrella Falls, trying out different angles, hoping to capture that money shot.

Color in the surrounding bushes

I think the above image was my favorite of the falls.

Cloudy Mt Hood sighting

Then I packed up my gear, and headed back through Mt Hood Meadows.  Crossing the ski area boundary, I came upon a patch of brilliant red bushes.  Mt Hood rose above the trees, making a perfect anchor for my camera's frame.

Colorful ski run

I'd just hiked in this same area last July and it was fun to see how different the ski slopes looked with wildflowers replaced by autumn hues.  Maxing out my camera's current memory card, I replaced it with another one out of my bag, and discovered the card had images on it from that same July hike!  What a coincidence.

Orange huckleberry leaves

Who says ski areas look ugly in the off-season?  Not here at Mt Hood Meadows.  I think it's beautiful year-round.  As a matter of fact, the best fall colors were right under the chairlift.

The HRM chairlift sits idle

I finished my trek with a steep downhill ramble that led me back to my car.  With the day still young, I contemplated another short hike, but since my toe behaved itself, I decided not to push it.

Patchwork quilt of fall hues

Crisp, sunny fall days are my absolute favorite for hiking.  Here's hoping I get a few more before the snow flies.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Smoky Day in Paradise Park

I'm a slow learner.  Even after finally getting my broken toe diagnosed, a stern warning from my podiatrist couldn't convince me to take a break from hiking.  I wasn't about to pass up one final ramble in Mt Hood's high alpine meadows.  Plus, I'd made plans with my new hiking buddy Catherine prior to this appointment. 

Bare ski slopes

It was mid-September, and wildfires were raging all over Oregon, the worst being a huge blaze in the Columbia River Gorge.  With all my favorite Gorge hiking haunts off-limits I looked to the mountains for my hiking fix.  Luckily for my friend and I, Mt Hood's forests had so far escaped the infernos.  But while plotting to explore the beautiful Paradise Park Trail we neglected to take one factor into consideration - wildfire smoke.  It lingered over Portland the morning of our trip, causing worry about what kind of air quality we'd encounter at the trailhead.

Catherine poses at the PCT sign

Neither of us were keen on sucking smoke while trudging uphill.  After hemming and hawing in Portland, trying to come up with alternate trails, we finally decided to bite the bullet, drive up to Timberline Lodge, and see how bad it really was.  Although the air was hazy for nearly the entire journey, when we pulled into Timberline's parking lot Hood was visible, save for a few lingering clouds (regular old clouds, not smoke).

Chairlifts patiently waiting for winter

Catherine and I decided to go for it.  Since rain and cold weather were forecast the following day, we both knew it might be our last chance to hike Mt Hood's high alpine country.  Following a paved path behind historic Timberline Lodge, we located the large wooden sign for the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) which in this location also shared paths with the round-the-mountain Timberline Trail.  Today's goal was to follow this trail westward four miles to the Paradise Park loop, and then head uphill to it's famous flower meadows.

Winding through high alpine tundra

The first mile was an easy saunter through shriveled flower fields.  The wide-open plains offered wonderful views of Mt Hood and the idle chairlifts of Timberline Ski Area.  On this late summer's day, it was hard to believe in a few short months these slopes would be covered with several feet of snow.

Crossing Zig Zag River

Past the wilderness boundary, Catherine and I crossed Little Zig Zag Canyon, journeyed across more delightful wide-open vistas, and then began the long descent into Zig Zag Canyon.  Losing 700 feet in 3/4 of a mile, the trail twisted and turned through forest before finally popping out into barren moonscape surrounding the Zig Zag River.

Looking back up Zig Zag Canyon

Rushing with glacial meltwater, crossing the mighty Zig Zag can sometimes be a challenge.  But this year traversing was easy peasy thanks to a sturdy log some kind soul had placed across it's banks.  Catherine and I shuffled to the opposite side and paused to take in the the upriver views.  A waterfall churned in the distance, and beyond we could make out steep canyon walls from the hazy skies.

First of the blow down

Then it was time to climb once again!  Although the opposite bank didn't gain quite as much elevation, it was still a long slow slog.  And it didn't help that we ran into a huge pile of blow-down trees blocking the trail.

Massive blow down trees covered the trail

Last winter had not been kind to the forest here.  Several enormous fir trees had blown down across a short stretch of trail, necessitating Catherine and I's best climbing skills to bypass.  Although other hikers had created a few work-around bootpaths, in some spots you had no choice but to clamber over the giant logs.  Up to now, my broken toe had been behaving, but climbing over these obstacles caused me to place my feet in different, non-walking positions.  One sketchy foothold was all it took to get my toe throbbing.

Red fall berries

After negotiating all that blow-down, we came to the first Paradise Loop Trail junction.  Time for more climbing!  Although this trail to the famous flower fields was less than a mile, I remembered from prior visits that it seemed to drag on forever.  Some things never change.....although a long slog, the forest was brightened by a huge patch of bright red berries.  And I even passed by one large field of dried up purple asters. 

Not what you think it is.....

Although the lupine bloom was long gone, its leaves were still green.  Dropping my trekking pole into a patch, one clump of lupine leaves stuck to the handle.  Funny and totally photo-worthy! (Yes, I know lupine leaves look similar to another popular plant, but it's not what you think it is!)

Still some mop-headed Western Pasque Flowers about

We passed by a huge slope covered with mop-headed Western Pasque Flowers (aka "Hippy on a Stick") 

Usually this meadow is full of flowers

Sadly, Paradise Park's beloved flower meadows were way past peak.  Upon arrival, all that was left were withered, brown stalks of what looked to have been a great bloom.  Oh well, at least there was a nice (albeit smoky) view of Mt Hood .

The famous Paradise Meadow sign

By now way past lunchtime, rumbling tummies forced Catherine and I to find a spot nearby to rest and refuel.  By now, my toe was aching mightily, and I gulped a couple of ibuprofen to ward off the pain.

Re-crossing the Zig Zag

It was funny, now that I knew for sure my toe was broken, I seemed to be hyper-cautious about every ache and pain, and baby it even more.  Due to my gimpy state, Catherine said it was up to me to determine our turn-around point.  Although I'd hoped to cover the entire Paradise Loop, with my now-unhappy toe, I decided it was wise to head back after lunch.  Our return trip involved mostly downhill travel at first.  This did not help my foot situation.  However, I kept going, hoping the ibuprofen would kick in soon.

Top of Hood shines through the smoke

Clambering over the blow-down trees a second time wasn't a lot of fun on a sore foot, but I made it through.  Then came the long, steep descent into Zig Zag Canyon.  As Catherine and shuffled across the log once again, and looking up the canyon, we noticed the skies were getting quite hazy.

Hazy mountain views

Time for the brutal climb out of Zig Zag Canyon!  To prepare, I fortified myself with a handful of gummi bears.  At least I had good company - Catherine and I chatted as we ascended, and that helped take my mind off tired legs and lungs (and angry toe!).

Fall colors starting to show

My podiatrist is an avid hiker and mountain climber, and we both joked it would be ironic to run into her up here on this trail (I would've been so busted!)  Luckily that didn't happen......(and I'm pretty sure my doc doesn't read this blog either.)

Zig Zag Canyon overlook

Finally Catherine and I reached the very top of Zig Zag Canyon.  We paused at the overlook to take in the magnificent views of Mt Hood and the massive canyon below.  But, oh were the skies looking smoky!

Rusty red leaves

The final two miles back to Timberline Lodge were the  most brutal of all.   Not only was I tired from hiking all day, the trail was all uphill.  At least there were some lovely early fall colors to distract me (and my camera!)  To save weight on my body, I only carried my new mirrorless Fujifilm camera on this hike.  So all the images in this post were from the new camera.  (I think they've improved from my first few photo excursions!)

Crossing Little Zig Zag Canyon

Catherine and I were glad we'd turned around early.  The wildfire smoke seemed to be getting worse with every passing hour.  Not only that, we could feel the weather changing.  Tomorrow's rainstorm was definitely on it's way.  I felt sorry for the backpackers I saw heading out.  They were in for a miserable, wet evening.

Hood in hazy afternoon light

Finally, Timberline Lodge came into view, and I was never so happy to see the place!  My sore toe now throbbing (so much for the "vitamin I") I was more than ready to take off my hiking boots and sit down.  Today's slow, painful return trip made me realize my doc was right.  If this toe was ever gonna get better, I needed to take a break from hiking.  It took a nine-mile slog over downed trees to finally get it through my thick skull (told you I was a slow learner!)

Timberline Lodge

But, despite the smoky skies and achy feet, I was happy to have completed one last trip high in the mountain meadows.  The very next day rain and snow descended upon Hood, covering the slopes around Timberline with a good foot of white stuff - and giving me another excuse to stay home and finally rest my foot.

Stats:  9 miles round trip, 2000 feet elevation gain.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Indian Heaven Wilderness Solo Backpack

As most of my blog readers know, I'm a day hiker.  I've tried a few overnight backpacking trips here and there, but they were always with my husband and he carried the majority of the heavy stuff (such as our old-style tent that weighed as much as an anvil).  However I'd always been interested in trying a solo backpacking trip and decided to make this one of my summer goals.  But before attempting to carry "all the things" by my little 'ole self, I needed to invest in some lighter-weight gear.

Obligatory sign photo

First, I swapped my huge Thermarest mattress for an airy fold-up sleeping pad.  Then my hubby and I ditched our hefty ancient tent in favor of a brand-new lightweight backpacking shelter (tipping the scales at a mere three pounds!)

Now to pick a date and destination.  Wanting to get into the Indian Heaven Wilderness this year, (my very favorite huckleberry-picking place) I chose the Lemei Trail into Lake Wapiki.  One I'd yet to explore, the trail was only 3.5 miles into the lake, perfect for a newbie backpacker such as myself.  I had the Friday off before Labor Day Weekend, so decided upon a one-nighter (enabling an easy bail if things didn't work out).

Giant pinecone!

Carrying everything I'd need for an overnight campout was a bit daunting at first.  But I laid out all my stuff, ditched the things deemed "luxuries" and cut back on my food (I have a bad habit of packing way too much).  I kept telling myself it wasn't the end of the world if I forgot something, it was just for one night.

Huckleberry leaves just starting to turn

The day of my big adventure dawned, and I took my time packing up, leaving my house after the morning rush hour.  It was a 2 1/2 hour drive to the trailhead (long drive for a dayhike - probably one of the reasons I'd never done this trail).  Reaching the trailhead around noon, I gulped down a cliff bar and shouldered my huge backpack.  Man it was heavy!  Could I make it 3.5 miles (all uphill)?

Lake Wapiki

The trail started out in a pleasant ponderosa pine forest.  Giant pinecones and thick huckleberry bushes covered the ground, some showing ripe berries.  At least I wouldn't go hungry on my hike in!  Taking my time, I slowly covered ground, picking any especially juicy-looking berries.  Although the first half mile was relatively flat, it didn't take long for the ground to rise.  And not only was the elevation getting higher, so were the temperatures.

My home for the evening

The Lemei trail alternated between steep and moderate, but it was uphill all the way.  With temps approaching 90 degrees, this made for a hot, sweaty slog.  I found it amazing how much a bit of extra weight could slow a person down.  The 3.5 miles seemed to take way longer to cover than if I'd been carrying just a dayback.

Golden morning light on the trees

But finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the sign for Lake Wapiki came into view.  Gratefully, I took the short quarter mile spur trail through thick woods (still uphill) before finally reaching a clearing.  I'd made it!  The lovely blue-green waters of Lake Wapiki were a sight for sore eyes (and back!).

Early morning reflections

When I arrived, there was only one party of day hikers splashing in the waters.  It appeared I had my pick of campsites.  Following a user trail around the lake, I spotted a sweet site right off the shore.  Surrounded by trees for privacy, it had a lovely view of the entire forest-rimmed lake.  This would do nicely!

Light filtering through the trees

After setting up camp, I briefly considered hiking to nearby Lemei Rock, only a about mile and 800 additional feet of climbing.  But the hot climb to the lake had done me in, so I was more than content to sit by the lakeshore with my book, dipping my feet into it's cool waters.

Blue water beyond the forest

By late afternoon, several other backpackers began to trickle in, most passing by my campsite, eyeing it longingly.  I struck up a conversation with one nice couple (with a very friendly dog) and discovering they planned to stay all weekend, offered them my site once I left the following morning.  I also chatted with a young man who'd hiked in with his family, including twin 19-month old girls.  He said the toddlers had walked most of the 3 mile trek by themselves.  Impressive!

Mt Rainier

It was a lovely, warm summer evening.  By nightfall the lake's campsites were full of backpackers, but all were very quiet and well-behaved (even the little kids).  After watching the sun dip behind a forested ridge above the lake, I retired to my tent with book and headlamp.  It didn't take long before sleep found me.  Although I woke up a couple of times during the night (sleeping pads are never that comfortable), I wasn't ever scared.  I actually felt safer here at this wilderness lake than a car campground (during my most recent Mt Rainier solo trip I'd endured a neighboring campsite full of drunk, noisy people.)

Fall colors starting

The following morning, I woke before dawn.  Hoping to capture a spectacular sunrise over the lake, I waited, camera in hand, for the first light to break over the cliff encircling Lake Wapiki.  But unfortunately daybreak was a bust.  However, I did capture some lovely golden light on the trees and reflections in the lake's still waters.

Lemei Rock

After breakfast, I decided to take the quick trek to Lemei Rock before packing up and heading back.  It was a steep climb from the lake to a ridge high above.  The views down into Lake Wapiki were mighty fine, as were the appearances of both Mount Adams and Rainier.  Crimson huckleberry leaves added color to the forest - a reminder that autumn wasn't far away.

Mountain goat sighting!

Lemei Rock is the highest point in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.  This eroded volcanic plug towers 300 feet above the surrounding terrain.  Although some people are known to ascend this rock (apparently it's not a technical climb) I opted to gaze from below.  As I was staring at Lemei Rock's summit, I spied a small white patch.  Upon closer inspection I realized it was a mountain goat!  I'd never spotted one in the wild here before.  In order to save weight, the lone camera I'd brought was my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera with only an 18-55 lens.  Not nearly enough zoom to get a good shot, but of course I tried anyway. 

Oh well, at least I got to see a mountain goat.  Definitely the high point of my trip!

Lake Wapiki view from on high

After the excitement at Lemei Rock, I returned to Lake Wapiki, packed up my gear, and told the nice couple my campsite was all theirs.  Then I once again hefted my huge pack for the return trip.  At least this time my trek would be all downhill. 


It was late morning as I made my way back down the trail.  Since it was Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I met dozens of hikers on their way up, most toting huge backpacks.  One man, in addition to his large backpack, was also carrying his tent in one hand and a growler full of beer in the other!  With so many people heading into Lake Wapiki, I was glad for my decision not to stay another night.  It probably wouldn't be near as peaceful.

Mt Adams

Back at my car, I pointed it towards home via the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge.  I didn't know it then, but it was the last time I'd see the Gorge in all her green finery.  Not two hours after I passed through, a huge fire erupted, started by kids carelessly throwing fireworks into the forest.  The fire would rage for weeks burning a large portion of my favorite hiking trails, shut down Interstate 84, strand 150 hikers, and cause hundreds of people to flee their homes.

If that wasn't bad enough, the following morning I learned a second fire had started in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, only a few short miles from where I'd camped the previous night.  All the hikers and campers had to be evacuated, some via different trailheads from where they'd parked.  I thought about the people I'd met at Lake Wapiki the day before - the nice couple who I'd given my campsite and the family with toddlers - and hoped they'd been able to evacuate safely.

More lovely autumn hues

My first solo backpacking trip was a success!  Although hiking uphill in the heat had worn me out, (how do those PCT thru-hikers do it day after day?) I survived and felt very little soreness the following day (save for my still undiagnosed broken toe, which was mighty angry with me).  Although I wasn't able to fit in a second trip this year, I'm already planning future backpacking adventures for next season.