Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 in Photos

That time again already??

After spending the past week in Montana celebrating Christmas with my son, I'm hurriedly scrambling to get my annual "year in photos" post together on the final day of 2017.  It's been a year of the unexpected - freak winter snow and ice storms, a banner skiing season, visiting a "new to me" state, being sidelined way longer than expected by a broken toe, massive wildfires destroying huge swaths of Oregon, including my beloved Columbia River Gorge.

As long-time blog readers know, I have a tradition of compiling a year-end post highlighting a favorite photo from each month of the year.  These photos are not always my very best work.  Some are chosen to represent a particular occasion or event that was meaningful to me.

Looking back at the past 12 months, it's been kind of a "meh" year.  It seems more bad than good has happened, not just in my little corner, but worldwide.  But now that 2017 is sliding into history, I'd like to start 2018 on a positive note.  So for this year-end post, along with each month's photo, I'm also including a positive sentiment to match the image.....something I'm thankful for.

Enjoy my "2017 in photos." 


Interesting ice formations

Winter weather hit early and often this month, with rare low-elevation snowstorms and freezing rain, that cancelled ski bus days, kept me home from work (yippee!) and turned waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge into icy works of art.  A photographer's paradise.

I'm thankful for..... being able to photograph these breathtaking examples of Mother Nature at her finest.


Snow day!

The unusual winter weather continued into February where I spent an unexpected day off work cross country skiing around our neighborhood park.  I'm not the best at taking selfies but this is one I really liked.  A great capture of the joy I felt that day.

I'm thankful events that force me to slow down and enjoy the outdoors.


Ski friends are the best!

One good thing about winter 2017 - all those storms made for an amazing ski season.  I tallied 33 days on the planks, many of those with my buddies from the midweek ski bus.  This photo is of me and my friends Glen and Brian from our last bus day of the season.  What can I say, ski friends are the best!

I'm thankful for.......many friends I've had an opportunity to share the slopes with this winter.


Love it when the balsamroot blooms

Once April rolls around, it's time to dust off the hiking boots and hit the trails in search of spring wildflowers.  I have my favorite spots, and most of them are located in the Columbia River Gorge.  This year I discovered a "new to me" area, the gorgeous Memaloose Hills.  Always fun to discover a new hike, this one had amazing vistas and slopes chock-full of colorful blooms.

I'm thankful for.......vibrant spring wildflowers that brighten the world just as I'm getting tired of dreary gray skies.


Sunset in Hawaii

My big trip of the year, in May my husband and I traveled to someplace we'd always wanted to visit - Hawaii!  We had a wonderful time exploring the big island, and I enjoyed capturing it's sights with my camera.  I especially loved the colorful ocean sunsets.  This one, taken on our final evening while killing time waiting for our red-eye flight home, became my favorite.

I'm thankful for........a job that provides adequate leave time and salary to allow travel.


Tunnel Falls, Eagle Creek Trail

This is a bittersweet photo.  Taken on late spring hike, I decided to traverse the Gorge's famous Eagle Creek Trail to the final waterfall, Twister Falls, 6 1/2 miles from the trailhead.  Little did I know it would be the last time I'd see this fabulous green wonderland as it was.  A Labor Day wildfire destroyed this special place.  It won't be the same for many years, possibly not in my lifetime.

I'm thankful for.......the many photographs I have of Eagle Creek Trail so I'll always remember this special place.


Wildflower explosion on Silver Star Mtn Trail

Summer treks to high elevation places always produce some of my favorite images.  It's always hard to chose just one photograph from a month of hikes, but a visit to Washington's Silver Star Mountain at peak wildflower bloom was hands-down one of the year's most memorable hikes.  I think you can see why.

I'm thankful close to such amazingly beautiful wild places.


Burroughs Mtn Trail, Mt Rainier National Park

August was a month of trying to hike despite a very sore toe (later I'd discover it was broken).  Not one to let an insignificant little digit stop a planned Mt Rainier trip, I went anyway, and hiked three days in a row.  One of my bucket list trails, the amazing Burroughs Mountains were just as spectacular as described.  Another memorable hike from 2017.

I'm thankful for........the beautiful National Parks in my country.


Smoky Mt Hood from Paradise Park Trail

September was a month of many downs.  Learning of the injury to my toe, hiking trips were curtailed.  A huge wildfire swept the Gorge, destroying many of my favorite trails and cloaking Portland and Mt Hood in thick smoke.  I didn't have a lot of photos to choose from this month, but this one from a trek to Paradise Park stood out.  From the Zig Zag Canyon overlook; a hazy Mt Hood appears through the smoke

I'm thankful for.........still having places to hike despite the many wildfires that plagued the Pacific Northwest this year.


Fall colors on Clear Lake Trail

Fall is my most favorite season to hike.  There's so many wonderful places to see autumn colors, it seems I never have enough time to see them all.  I tried to pare this month down to one photo, but  I  had favorite photos from two very spectacular hikes and just couldn't choose.  So as a special bonus, I've included them both.  The top photo is from an early October visit to Central Oregon's Clear Lake (best fall color ever!)

More fall colors, Wilson River

And this bottom photo is from a spur-of-the-moment late October trip to the coast range's Wilson River.  I most certainly hit the fall color jackpot that day, not only with peak leaf color, but also perfect sunny weather.

I'm thankful close to so many areas of beautiful fall color.


Dog Mountain Trail

Although the Oregon side of the Gorge remained off-limits for hiking (no Gorge fall color tours for me this year!) the Washington side was very much open for business.  In the span of two weekends, I hit the highlights - Cape Horn, Hamilton Mountain, and finally, Dog Mountain.  A place I usually only visit during spring wildflower bloom, I learned that it can be just as beautiful in autumn too.  A great hike with good friends, this trek was one of the surprise hidden gems of 2017.

I'm thankful for.........hiking buddies that will join on the trail me no matter the weather.


Ghostly bare branches in the Columbia River Gorge

In early December, I learned a small portion of the Gorge spared by the fire was once again open.  Eager to revisit favorite places, I made a small trek around Latourell Falls.  Although plagued with camera troubles, I was able to capture quite a few good images, such as this one of the moss-covered, ghostly tree branches in a foggy forest.

I'm thankful that..........some of the Gorge trails and waterfalls were spared from the fire and able to be reopened.

A big thanks to all my faithful readers who keep coming back year after year.  I appreciate all your comments, page views, and likes on my Facebook page.  You are the reason I get out there with my camera and continue to share these outdoor adventures.

Onward to 2018!

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Reopening the Gorge

As most of my regular readers know, Oregon's world-famous Columbia River Gorge was the victim of a massive wildfire in early September.  One of my favorite places to hike, I was devastated to learn many of the trails had been affected.  The Gorge was closed to the public both during and after the fire was finally controlled.  Sadly that meant no Gorge fall color hikes this year.

Latourell Falls

But Thanksgiving weekend brought good news - a small portion of the Historic Highway had been reopened.  Two waterfalls, Latourell and Bridal Veil, spared from the flames, were once again accessible to the public.

Closer view of the falls

After seeing a bunch of Latourell Falls posts from Thanksgiving weekend, I knew I needed to get my Gorge waterfall fix.  So the following weekend, I made an early morning visit. 

And another close-up

Latourell Falls, the closest waterfall to Portland, is one of the Gorge's great cascades.  Plunging 249 feet over the lip of a tall basalt cliff this waterfall is a breathtaking sight.  A short 2.3 mile trail loops around the upper creek, taking visitors to the waterfall's very top and past another smaller cascade.

Latourell Falls is 249 feet high

I decided to see how my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera would perform photographing waterfalls.  From the parking lot, I gathered up my camera bag, backpack, and tripod and climbed a steep path to the first viewpoint.

Creek below the falls

But once at the overlook, I began fussing with my tripod and not paying attention to the open camera bag swinging from my neck.  My brand-new camera rolled out, crashing onto the pavement.  To make matters worse, my tripod then toppled onto the camera.

Another view of this lovely creek

Oh this day was not starting out well!  Luckily, despite the hard landing, my camera still worked.  It's lens hood had taken the brunt of the fall, and the tripod had only scratched the screen.  I fired off a few test shots and then breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Falls and footbridge

This first overlook was definitely bad luck.  Time to pack up and walk to the bottom of the falls.  As I was stowing my gear, raindrops began pattering on the ground.  Wait a minute - this was not in the forecast!  Luckily I'd grabbed my rain jacket and backpack cover.  (This is Oregon in the late fall after all, you never know when it might get wet).

Underside of large auto bridge

At the bottom of Latourell Falls is a lovely mossy creek and picturesque footbridge.  Setting up my tripod on the bridge, I heard a clink.  Another nearby photographer altered me that my polarizing filter had fallen off my lens and was teetering on the edge of the bridge.  Stepping down to grab it, I slipped on the wet deck and almost went over the edge!  Luckily my filter stayed put and after hoisting myself back up I was able to retrieve it. 

Gorgeous moss-covered trees

Oh boy, what else could go wrong today?  After spending a good half hour at Latourell Falls' base, it was time to move on.  A footpath led visitors along the creek past beautiful moss-covered trees.  The path then ducked under an old roadway bridge before switchbacking up to the Historic Highway.

One leaf still hanging on

Crossing the highway, the trail climbed steeply through a lovely forest.  A few straggler yellow leaves still clung to bare branches. 

Collection of color

I was having a good time capturing this most splendid forest when I noticed a red blinking icon in my camera viewfinder.  Low battery? ...... Oh no!

Fall leaves are almost gone

With a little over a mile to reach the upper falls, I definitely wanted to save some battery power to capture them.  So off went the camera, back into its bag and I had to pass by more beautiful sights that I couldn't photograph (about killed me!).

Viewpoint at the top of the falls

At the top of one switchback I noticed a steep side trail leading down to an open spot.  Curiosity got the better of me so I gingerly climbed down to have a look.  The tiny clearing gave a birds-eye view of the top of Latourell Falls.  Although impressive, it was difficult to capture in a photograph.  But the foggy forest surrounding this viewpoint was especially scenic.  (Worth using a tiny bit of precious battery power to capture!)

Interesting trees

For such a short trail, the upper falls seemed to take a long time to reach.  As I finally approached the roaring upper cascade, my friend the rain decided to make a return appearance. 

Upper Latourell Falls

Not wanting to further soak my new camera (it had been through enough already today!) I opted to snap a couple of quick hand held shots of the upper falls and call it good.  Shorter and partially hidden in a shallow cavern, it wasn't as impressive as it's lower cousin anyway.

Back past the lower falls

Upper falls now captured on my memory card, it was a quick downhill march along the opposite side of the creek.  A short distance from the parking lot, I got another great view of Lower Latourell Falls, this time from a side angle.

Looking out towards the Gorge

I liked this view of the falls.  Surrounded by a mysterious mossy forest, you could also catch glimpses of the Columbia River through the trees.

Fire damage on the Historic Highway

Driving back on the Columbia River Historic Highway I passed several areas charred by the fire.  It appeared the flames had hopscotched across the forest, torching some spots, while leaving other areas green and untouched.  I pulled over and used my camera's remaining battery power to capture a few shots of the damage.

Scorched rock

Very sad and sobering to see some of the beautiful forests reduced to black scars. 

Blackened hillside

I'm grateful the authorities were able to open a small stretch of the Gorge Scenic Highway.  Although a large piece of the Gorge will likely be closed for a year or two, it's comforting to know at least a couple trails were spared.

(And to continue my day of bad luck, once safely back home, I discovered my lens cap was missing.......Ugh!)

Friday, December 22, 2017

November Backyard Happenings

In November, with the weather turning colder, and food getting scarcer, my hubby always begins filling up the backyard bird feeders.  Our feathery friends are most grateful.  Of course, these feeders attract wildlife other than birds.....

Stealing an apple

A posse of squirrels also make regular visits to our backyard.  Not only do they too love the birdseed, these bushy-tailed rascals eat the apples off our tree.

Our strawberry leaves are colorful

Although the fall colors peak in early November, by mid-month there's still a few leaves hanging on.  Our strawberry plants turn an especially lovely shade of red-orange.

Our front yard tree has brilliant yellow leaves

And the big flowering pear tree in our front yard sports brilliant yellow leaves.

Squirrel on the fence

I caught this little thief perched on our fence, waiting for an opportunity to raid the bird feeder.

Perched in a tree

My hubby and I love to watch the birds.  Many different species drop by, but I don't know the names of hardly any.  Guess I'll need to read up and educate myself!

Dove under my window

I do know what doves look like.  There's a flock that make regular visits, and I love watching them.  This one was right underneath my window.

Little bird at our feeder

One of our feeders is right outside the dining room window.  Perfect for getting some close-up shots!

Colorful visitor

There's a pair of these birds that are regulars at the feeder.  I think they are woodpeckers?  Again, I really need to buy that bird identification book!

Caught in the act!

My favorite photo of all - I caught this furry bandit right below my window.  I love his expression.  Busted!

Photographing backyard wildlife - a good way to spend these chilly fall afternoons.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Early Season Skiing

 Why is it one of the smallest parts of your body has the potential for causing the most trouble?

Follow the skin track!

I thought my broken toe was finally healed.  I'd rested it and sworn off hiking for nearly a month.  Then in early November I slowly eased back, hiking two weekends in a row with no problems.  So when my friends Young and John wanted to take advantage of a rare mid-November snowfall, I didn't even question if my foot was ready for skiing.

Snow-covered beauty

An early season storm had deposited a thick layer of snow on Mt Hood.  Hungry for some turns, my friends and I eagerly dug out our ski gear and headed to Timberline Lodge one sunny Saturday morning.

Cool morning clouds

The sun had just risen over the adjacent Cascade mountains as Young and I attached climbing skins to our skis and began the long, slow uphill shuffle to the top of Timberline's Palmer ski lift.  A bank of unusual cotton-ball shaped clouds covered the morning sky above Mt Hood.

Looking back at a snow-covered Timberline Lodge

And the view behind us of snow-covered Timberline Lodge tucked under Mt Jefferson's shadow was fantastic. 

Young and the mountains

After attending to some first-day gear adjustments at the truck, John quickly caught up to Young and I.  Together we followed a well-worn track in the snow heading towards the Magic Mile chairlift's terminus and the mid-mountain Silcox Hut.  A mellow ascent of 1000 feet in one mile, it provided an opportunity to prepare unused muscles for the steep climb to come.

Silcox Hut

Reaching the Silcox Hut, Young and I took a quick snack break and admired the view at 7000 feet.  Snow-covered foothills spread out across the horizon.

My skiing companions

Battered by strong winds, the snow here was stiff and icy.  Frozen ridges rippled across the white surface.  One large rock was engulfed by ice crystals in the shape of a wave.

Frozen wave

Now the tough climbing began!  Following the ice-crusted towers of the Palmer lift, our path would now rise 1500 feet in a little over half a mile.

Ready for the steep climb! (photo by Young)

Skiing up a steeper slope required placing more force on the ball of my foot and bending my toes.  As I raised my heels to gain better traction, I felt a sharp twinge in my injured (but I thought was now healed) toe.

Line of backcountry skiers

Oh, that didn't feel right at all.....the next uphill kick brought another stab of pain.  I remembered that sensation.  It was the same feeling I'd experienced when I'd broken the toe hiking.

John by a lift tower

In an attempt to mitigate further damage, I tried putting my weight fully into the big toe (the injured digit was the one next to my small toe).  That seemed to keep the aches at bay for the moment, so I continued my uphill shuffle.

The long uphill slog

Skinning up the Palmer is a popular early-season activity, and there was no shortage of backcountry skiers that morning.  It appeared everyone was hoping to get in some conditioning for the season ahead.  I'm very slow, so pretty much every skier up there passed me by.

Amazing scenery behind

But one man, shuffling uphill on a pair of skinny cross country skis, slowed and began chatting with me.  He claimed he was having a tough time and wanted to take things easier.  I didn't mind the company.  John, being in fantastic shape (despite recovering from a recent cold) was far ahead and Young, starting to show symptoms of John's illness, was struggling behind me.

Palmer midway loading station

The cross-country ski man and I followed the snowcat track paralleling the Palmer chairlift's ice-crusted towers.  The warm sun began melting their icy coating, and every once and awhile a few chunks of ice would come crashing down with a roar.  Certainly kept things exciting, to say the least!

Lots of folks heading uphill

Although this fall I'd kept up my fitness with swimming, weight lifting, and cycle classes, the steep climb still had me gasping for air and pausing frequently to rest burning leg muscles.

Ice-crusted lift towers

After what seemed an eternity, the top of Palmer's lift house slowly came into view.  I spotted John waiting on top.  He shouted encouragement as I shuffled the final distance up the cat track to where he stood.  Yahoo!  I'd made it! 

Lunch break at the top of Palmer

John and I spotted Young far below.  After another 20 minutes she came straggling up the final incline, ready for a break.  John shoveled out a seat in the snow, and the three of us took a relaxing break, enjoying snacks and hot tea.  I stretched out my aching foot.  It wasn't pretty, but my toe had survived the uphill climb.  But would it behave for the trip back down?

Young photographs the mountain

After a nice long rest, taking in the lovely blue-sky day, and watching a steady stream of backcountry skiers reach the top of Palmer and beyond (some continued higher up the mountain) John declared it was time to remove our climbing skins and head back down.  The moment of truth had arrived.....

Time to ski down!

The snow, pounded and packed by the wind, was hard and crunchy.  Turns did not come easy.  Tentatively, I tried a telemark turn, only to be greeted by a stabbing pain in the toe.  Nope, telemark turns were out.  I'd have to "survival ski" downhill using alpine turns instead.

Here comes John

The trip downhill was brutal.  Not only was the snow hard and icy, we found rocks littering the slopes below the Silcox Hut.  Trying to baby my toe, I skied very conservatively, my hesitations causing several wipeouts.  Near the very bottom, we encountered a thick blanket of heavy snow.  Unable to muscle my way through, I flew over my ski tips, into an elegant face-plant.  Watching me flounder in the thick snow trying to get up, wiping off my sunglasses, and knocking snow off my helmet gave Young a good laugh (and of course some great photos too - what are friends for?)

Wipeout aftermath

Back at the truck, I gratefully removed my boot.  Trying to walk to the lodge, my foot rebelled in pain.  Yep, I was pretty sure I'd rebroken the toe.  An apre-ski beer and several of Young's ibuprofen helped take the edge off until I could get home and ice it.

Dodging rocks

So now I'm back to square long distance hikes for a few weeks.  The month of December has been dry thus far, keeping the mountain snow away, so I've not been tempted to do any more skiing.

If it was a large bone broken or some other major injury, I think it would be easier to take a break from my outdoor activities.  But when the damage is limited to a small toe (and an insignificant one at that) and the rest of me is fine, I find it very difficult to lay off entirely.  But rest I will, because I don't want to miss ski season. 

(I know you're all tired of hearing about my stupid toe, so hopefully this will be the last time I have to write about it!)