Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Hiking Hardy Ridge in - Gasp! - January

Winters in the Pacific NW are so unpredictable.  Last year we endured an endless series of snow, ice storms, and unseasonably cold weather.  However, this year I think winter forgot to show up.

Sunlight filters through the forest

Precipitation has been miserly, showering the mountains with token amounts of snow - only to be washed away by rain a day later.  December temperatures hovered well above normal, assuring that whatever snow survived wouldn't stick around long.  So far this un-winter has wreaked havoc on the local snowpack.  With minimal amounts of the white stuff, skiing hasn't been great.

That's why when the forecast one mid-January Saturday predicted warm temps and more dry skies, I opted to skip the slopes for a hike in the Gorge.

A slight sign alteration...

I sent out email invites to both Catherine and Young, thinking one of the two would accept.  But - surprise, surprise - both of them replied yes.  Not only my two girlfriend hiking buddies, by the time Catherine and I met Young at the trailhead, we found she'd also invited her hubby John, and friends Steve and Joel.  Yahoo - the Dog Mountain Group was back together again!  And, to round out our merry band, Steve and Joel brought along their long-time friend and neighbor Don.

Modeling my new backpack

Santa had left a fat REI gift card in my stocking.  I cashed it in for a brand-new backpack, and today would be it's maiden voyage (or hike).  My companions oohed and aahed in admiration - except for John who jokingly said my pristine backpack needed some dirt rubbed onto it (and offered to do the honors).

A quick break

With the Oregon Gorge hiking trails still closed, I again looked to our northern neighboring state.  Hardy Ridge, on the Washington side, became the day's destination.   A wonderful scenic ridge run, I'd hiked it plenty of times in the spring and fall.  But today would be my first wintertime visit.

Made it to the sign!

Our group started out on an old abandoned road, climbing a gradual uphill.  Lovely bright sunlight filtered through the trees, warming the air.  Thinking we'd encounter cold temperatures, I'd dressed in my warm ski clothes (this was January after all).  It didn't take long before our entire crew took it's first "clothing break" to strip off a layer.

The views begin....

We continued to the first trail junction, where a snack and second clothing break were in order.  I always take photos of the trail signs and while focusing on the one marking our junction, noticed a slight alteration.  Someone had painted over part of the "w" in "lower loop" so it now read "lover loop."  (Tee-hee!)

Admiring the fabulous sights

Up another road our happy hiker group climbed, through more beautiful forest.  Although the deciduous trees were stark and leafless, numerous conifers provided plenty of green.  Plus the forest floor was full of ferns, and bright green moss covered adjacent rocks and branches.

Wind-blown trees

Finally leaving the road for good, we hit the steep uphill portion of our hike.  This trail rocketed upward, through multiple switchbacks.  If we weren't hot already, this climb did the trick.  I stripped down to my long sleeve base layer, chiding myself for not slipping a short sleeve t-shirt underneath.  And wearing my insulated hiking pants was also not the best decision.  (Who would've thought we'd get such warm temperatures on a hike - in January?)

The men walking through a bare, mossy patch

After quite a bit of elevation gain (and lots of sweat) my friends and I reached the beginning of the ridgetop, and our first viewpoint.  And it was a grand one!  The Columbia River, shining like a blue ribbon was far below, nestled in the green cliffs of the Gorge.  The day's relatively clear skies meant views stretched far east and west.  It was Catherine's first time on Hardy Ridge, and by the huge smile on her face, I could tell she was enjoying herself.

The Columbia River far below

But we weren't done yet.  My group followed a unofficial scramble trail that roller-coastered across Hardy Ridge, dipping down and clambering back up a few small forested knolls. 

One last ridge to climb

Breaking out of the forest for the final time, the last half mile of our hike was across a wide open ridge, showcasing the adjacent scenery.  More grand Gorge views, plus Table Mountain and the tip of Mt Adams.  But the best was yet to come.....

Up we go!

Our final climb was a steep slog up a talus slope, with a few remaining snow patches to navigate.  So weird to see this area nearly snow-free - in January!

More views to admire

But once we reached the top, it was an easy trek across the ridge to Phlox Point, our lunch spot.

Lunch spot

Sunny skies, warm temps, no wind, and fantastic views of the Gorge and Columbia River.  And no rain!  (Or snow)  Phlox Point remains one of my favorite places for an outdoor picnic.

Enjoying clear skies and warm temps

Can you believe this is January?  It felt more like a day in late spring.

The Gorge and river

While the gang was refueling, I prowled along the ridge, snapping a few images of the fantastic panorama below.

View to the west

Still lots of green out there for winter - even the moss was vibrant!

Walking the ridge

After a relaxing break, it was time for my favorite part of the hike - the return trip.  White-capped Mt Hood stood front and center, framing our view as we marched back across the ridge.

Wonderful Mt Hood views

Some of my favorite photos of the day came from this portion of the hike.

Heading back down

Slowly we wound back down, lingering at some of the more impressive viewpoints.  It's a rare day to get clear skies and no wind on Hardy Ridge - especially in winter.

One last glimpse of Hood

For the return trip, my group opted to take a different trail that zig-zagged down through a dense forest.   Not much to take photos of, so my camera remained stashed in its bag.  That is, until we passed by the famous "boot rock."  I pointed out this local hiking landmark to Catherine, who eagerly agreed to be my photo model.

Catherine found "Boot Rock"

The only downside to this hike is the final road walk seems endless (I swear it's the work of the "trail stretchers").  By now everyone was hot, tired, and more than ready for our traditional post-hike beer.

Hiking through sunshine

But the sunshine and warm weather were a welcome surprise on this winter's day.  How often does one get to hike in their shirt sleeves - in January?

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

New Years Day Neighborhood Stroll

Yeah, I know.  It's nearly the end of January and I'm posting about New Years Day.  Yup - that's my MO - terminally behind on blog posts (I'm sure you'll all be shocked if I ever catch up!)

Partially frozen pond

New Years Day dawned in my neighborhood, sunny but cold.  I have a tradition of spending NYD on the ski slopes, but this year opted to stay home.  (Thin snowpack and the fact I'd just returned from Montana and didn't relish another drive on slippery roads were deciding factors.)

Red berries

I thought about driving somewhere for a quick hike, but it was too soon after my trip.  I wasn't ready to sit in the car for an hour or two.

Artsy fence

Not wanting to waste this wonderful sunny winters day (a rarity in western Oregon!) I decided to grab my camera for an impromptu stroll around the neighborhood.  Since we no longer have a dog, and I haven't been running, I realized how much I missed my daily trips around the block.  Time to reacquaint myself with the 'hood!

Bare trees

I feel fortunate to live where I do.  A mere half mile from home sits a wonderful recreation complex.  This large facility boasts numerous soccer and baseball fields, a huge gym, an Olympic size pool, and - best of all - a wonderful network of walking trails.

Wonderful light streaming through the woods

The local park district has left small pockets of wooded areas intact, and walking trails run right through them.

Moss adds color

Sunlight filtering through the trees created lovely patterns on bare branches.  It also lit up a patch of fuzzy green moss brilliantly.

Loved the sunshine

A few hardy blackberry leaves still clung to their vines, backlit by the bright sunshine.

Backlit leaf

A tiny duck pond sits near the soccer fields.  The previous night's chilly temperatures had created a thin skin of ice across it's surface. 

More pond pics

The partially frozen water created many interesting patterns.


I especially liked the above image.  Fuzzy reflections in the icy surface make for a wonderfully abstract photograph.

Everything is brown and dry

Even dried, brown weeds gone to seed were photogenic (at least I thought so!)

Except these bright blackberry leaves

No, it wasn't an epic hike to some jaw-dropping location.  But my home turf provided a good hour's ramble and enough interesting photo subjects to keep my shutter finger busy.

Who knew on this cold January day I'd find such beauty in my own neighborhood?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Discovering Discovery

Montana has some fantastic world-renowned ski areas.  Visiting my son over the Christmas holiday, I'd packed my boards, hoping for an opportunity to sample the goods at one of them.  The following Wednesday I got my chance.  But not at the big boys, Big Sky or Whitefish Mountain.......No, my son took me to a local resort in the middle of nowhere.  I spent the day "discovering" a small but mighty ski area named Discovery.

View towards Georgetown Lake

A two-plus hour drive from my son's home through slippery roads and beautiful but sparsely populated country brought us to this charming local gem.  Situated above Georgetown Lake, I immediately noticed grand views from the top of the first slope.  And that was on an overcast, snowy day.  I'm sure the scenery is even better when skies are blue.

Lots of treetops sticking out!

Sadly Montana was suffering from the same lack of snow that had been plaguing ski areas throughout the west.  Riding the lift I noticed lots of treetops sticking up through the snow.  Several runs appeared to show almost as much brown as white.

Chairlift selfie (my son is not amused)

Despite the thin snowpack, my son and I still had a fun morning checking out the trails.  Seeing me puzzling over the trail map, a friendly ski patroller stopped and gave us a rundown of the good places to ski.  After a few tries my son and I finally located "Truefisher" a black diamond run highly recommended by our ski patrol friend.  It was impeccably groomed and so much fun to scream down, we immediately jumped back on the lift to try it again.

View from the lodge deck

It was well after noon when my son and I finally headed into the lodge to find some lunch.  The place was packed!  After locating a table, we stood in an extremely long line (25 minutes!).  A large basket of freshly baked dinner rolls was strategically located next to the grill, and they smelled so good I just couldn't resist grabbing one.  Not only the rolls, Discovery touted their cookies as the best ever ("It's all about the cookie" a sign proclaimed) so of course I had to sample one.

Cute day lodge

The lodge was full of families enjoying a day together.  A favorite of the locals, it seemed everyone knew each other (my son even ran into a woman from his church).  The vibe was relaxed and friendly - something you rarely experience in a large ski area.

Old snowboards were used for trail signs

Belly full of chili, dinner roll and cookie, I was feeling sluggish on the slopes after lunch.  But my son and I made a valiant effort to get some more turns in.  We followed one run downhill until the groomed slope vanished into a tangled mess of treetops and deep snow.  My son and I slowly picked our way down, trying to avoid all the hazards, but one tiny tree snagged my ski and down I went!  (Luckily nothing was harmed but my pride)

Discovery is apparently famous for it's cookies!

My son with his young legs and boundless energy, proceeded to kick my butt on the slopes that afternoon.  By 2:30 I was crying "uncle" and suggested it was time to start heading to the car.  Knowing there was a long, slippery drive ahead I wanted to make it back before darkness fell.  Of course before leaving, I had to stop by the lodge for a last-minute potty break.  It was there that I came across the official "Discovery" t-shirts for sale at the gift shop.  Most ski areas advertise their great snow, steep terrain, or numerous runs, but at Discovery they take great pride in their cookies.  (Personally I thought the dinner rolls were better)

A lovely little ski area

I had a wonderful time hanging out with my son and exploring a "new to me" ski area.  Discovery had a mellow, family-friendly vibe.  Some of the terrain was every bit as challenging as the big boys, and the runs just as long.   I'd love to come back on a deep powder day - I could really have some fun here.  Next time I visit Montana in the winter, I just might!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Post-Christmas Snowshoe

The day after Christmas, and I was getting a bit of cabin fever.  Cold weather and an ill husband meant I'd spent most of Christmas Eve and Day inside.  After journeying to Montana to spend the holidays with my son, I was more than ready to tromp around in the 12 inches of snow that had fallen.

Snowy woods

My poor hubby was sick with a bad cough, and we spent most of the day following Christmas getting him some medicine (a bit of advice - make sure the health insurance cards in your wallet are up to date before traveling!).  My son and I talked about taking a snowshoe hike, but it was mid afternoon before we finally had a chance to go.

Tree trunks provide the only color contrast

Luckily, trails abound on the outskirts of the town where he lives.  A short 15-minute drive took us to the nearest trailhead.  Although we saw mostly nordic skiers in the parking lot, my son discovered an entire system of trails just for snowshoers.

Love the snowy branch patterns

Oh, the trees with their snow-covered branches were so beautiful!  I'm sure I annoyed my son with all my frequent photo stops.  But he was a good sport and patiently waited for me.

Fluffy cotton snow

Some bare bushes, their limbs thin little sticks, had caught large clumps of the powdery snow.  Kind of looked like big cotton balls perched on top.

The woods were beautiful

The ponderosa pine trees with their reddish-brown patterned bark really stood out amongst the snow-covered forest.

My son allowed one photo

We hiked for a couple of miles in this white wonderland.  Although temperatures weren't much above ten degrees, plowing through the snow soon warmed us.  I was even lucky enough to have my camera-shy son agree to pose for a photo.  As all mothers know, you can never have enough photographs of your children!

Snow-laden branches

A rapidly sinking sun signaled it was time to turn around.  We could feel the temperature dropping.  Not wishing to be in the woods after dark, I quickened my pace.  Still, I did make time for a few final images, such as this one of some lovely snow-laden branches.

We barely beat darkness!

Darkness was already cloaking the forest as we rounded the final bend towards the parking lot.  But the silver lining was spotting the moon already rising over the trees.  One final photograph to remember a special winter's afternoon spent with my son.