Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hot Day on Tilly Jane

The Pacific NW experienced another summer of record-breaking heat.  It was a tough few months for us PNW'ers accustomed to cloudy skies, moderate temperatures, and cool, wet weather.(Agghhh....what's that glowing globe in the sky???)

Doubly difficult if you're planning to hike above timberline on Mt Hood.

Mt Hood sighting

For one of my mid-July Fridays off I planned to explore a trail that until now I'd only experienced during winter months, the Tilly Jane Ski Trail.  This route passed through an old burn area showcasing spectacular mountain views, including picture-perfect Mt Hood vistas.

Butterfly posing for me

I'd seen photos from past summers where the fireweed grew thick below skeletons of burned-out trees.  Hoping to catch the bloom, I headed to Mt Hood's Northeast side and parked near the Cooper Spur Ski Area.  Having previously only visited during winter months, the trailhead and parking area looked so different without snow!

Purple power

Then it was slather on the sunscreen, top off my water bladder, don a large, shady hat, and hit the trail!  The first mile meandered through thick forest.  Temps were already rising, so I enjoyed the shade while I could.

Mountain views through the burn

Beyond a trail junction, the terrain abruptly changed.  I entered the burn zone from the 2008 Gnarl Ridge Fire.  Gray, dead, tree trunk-covered slopes as far as the eye could see.  (No more shade for me!)  But the silver lining was this lack of vegetation cleared the way for amazing views of Mt Hood.  And, although I was too early to catch peak fireweed bloom, the ground was thickly covered with other yellow and purple wildflowers.  Totally unexpected!

Tilly Jane A-frame cabin

So, per normal "Linda with a camera" hiking speed, I sauntered slowly by these colorful flower fields, capturing the beauty from all angles.  (However, full sun and hot temperatures also were to blame for my granny-gear pace.)


After nearly three miles and 2000 feet of uphill climbing, I came upon the famous Tilly Jane A-frame Cabin.  Maintained by the Oregon Nordic Club, this rustic building can be reserved for year-round overnight accommodations.  (The only hitch, access is human-powered.  Visitors have to hike or ski/snowshoe to get here.)  On this day, I took advantage of the cabin's sturdy outdoor picnic tables for a short rest and snack break.

Timberline Trail intersection

Then after a bit of snooping around, located trail 600A, a connector that would take me to the 'round the mountain Timberline Trail.  Another mile and thousand feet of climbing was in store.

Cooper Spur shelter

Oh boy, this part of the hike was tough!  Although the path wound through a few forested areas at first, the majority of this leg was above timberline in full sun.  Steeply uphill.  At midday.

Three peak view

Needless to say, I reached the Timberline Trail junction feeling fully cooked.  I'd been sipping water from my Camelback reservoir at regular intervals, but it didn't seem to make a difference.  Feeling a tiny bit delirious from the heat, I scanned uphill towards the Cooper Spur Trail, trying to locate the stone shelter.  My day's destination, I was hoping it wasn't much farther.

Hood looks really close!

Upward I slogged at a snail's pace.  Although the shelter itself was only a quarter mile from the Timberline Trail junction, at the time it seemed like I would never get there.

Shelter and mountains

Finally the metal roof of the tiny rock structure came into view.  Toiling up the final steep pitch, I was never so happy to see the shelter's rocky walls.  I gratefully removed my backpack and sank into a tiny patch of shade.  Time for some food, rest, and copious amounts of electrolyte drink!

Stone shelter close-u[

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corp in the 1930's, several of these sturdy little shelters were constructed in strategic places around Mt Hood.  Designed to withstand extreme mountain weather, all featured small wood-burning fireplaces, metal roofs, thick rock walls, and dirt floors.  Although primitive, these tiny huts were intended to provide refuge from the elements for hikers, skiers, and rescue parties.  Sadly, only three shelters have survived (the other two are located at McNeil Point and Cairn Basin). 

Purple trail
At 6700 feet elevation, the Cooper Spur Shelter provided impressive vistas of the surrounding Cascade peaks (Mt St Helens, Rainer, and Adams) and in-your-face views of Mt Hood.  After resting and re-hydrating, it wasn't long before my camera came out of it's bag.

Some white-ish lupine

Although clear skies meant full sun exposure on this scorching hot day, it also provided perfect views of nearby Cascade peaks.  I guess there are some advantages to sunshine!

Mountains peek through the trees

Rest and hydration did wonders for my parched body.  After a half hour break, I was ready to haul my hot, sweaty, tired self back down the mountain.  Although facing a four mile return trip, at least this time gravity would be in my favor.

Lupine and bug

The first mile back to Tilly Jane A-frame was steep and challenging.  My quads and feet weren't too happy about this rocky, arduous descent but once we reached the cabin, the trail flattened out a little.

Silver forest

Normally forest fires leave behind charred patches of ugliness, but the Tilly Jane Trail is really a scenic area.  These silver, ghostly trees add to the beauty.  Void of vegetation, the surrounding hills and Cascade peaks are visible.  Exposed to full sun, wildlowers bloom profusely.  Although I didn't take as many flower photos (the uphill trip had already been well documented) my return trek became focused on capturing the mountains, gleaming white between bare trunks.

Lots of Penstemon

On such a beautiful summer's day, I expected to see lots of hikers out and about.  But I only encountered a handful of folks the entire time, and most of them were near the Timberline Trail.

The flowers were amazing!

Guess this place is kind of a hidden secret.  (Well, until certain bloggers post fantastic wildflower and scenery photos. Wink, wink!) 

Golden flower patch

When I finally reached the trailhead it was over 90 degrees, and I'd sucked the last drops of water from my Camelback reservoir.  Thirsty, sweaty, and filthy dirty (dust from the trail had stuck to my sweaty legs so it looked like I'd hiked through mud) I felt totally gross.  The water bottle I'd left inside my car felt like bathwater.  Perfect for cleaning up, but not so perfect for drinking.  Time to head to the nearest town for a cold beverage!

Washington Lily

Another "new to me" hike (well, sort of), I discovered the Tilly Jane Ski Trail is just as amazing in summer as winter.  Hindsight has a way of diminishing the difficulties while amplifying the wonder.  Once back home, showered, and reviewing the day's photos with a cold beer in hand, I decided it had been totally worth the toasty trek.

Stats:  8 miles round-trip, 3000 feet elevation gain.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Butterflies Galore!

2018 has been the summer of the butterfly.  In early July, a massive migration of these beautiful winged insects swept through the Oregon Cascades.

Colorful orange butterfly

Anyplace wildflowers were blooming, butterflies thrived.  I planned an early July weekend trip to the Central Oregon Cascades to check out a reported huge wildflower bloom on the Browder Ridge Trail.

I liked this shade of orange

The flower report turned out to be a bust, but the concentration of butterflies flitting among the scraggly flowers more than made up for it.

This one had orange and gold spots

The heat of afternoon seemed to bring these winged beauties to life.  It was fun to watch them zipping amongst the flowers.  But boy were they difficult subjects to photograph!  Soaring from one blossom to the next, I'd just get one in focus and it would fly away.

A lovely blue specimen

But I persisted, and after a bit of waiting, watching, and a lot of patience, I did manage to capture a few butterflies as they settled in on blossoms. 

A two-fer, butterfly and bee

Although I found the Browder Ridge Trail mostly steep, hot and boring, there were a few lovely wildflowers about.  Like this creamy white Washington Lily (also called the Cascade Lily).

Washington lily

And these mossy tree trunks were quite interesting.  Kind of looked like green hair.

Hairy moss

The trail did have some nice mountain views.  But midday light made for some terrible images, so you'll just have to take my word for it.  However, at one point the trees parted for a nice glimpse of Mt Jefferson.

Mt Jefferson

The lupine were just starting to burst into color.

Tiny purple lupine

The butterflies seemed to really like the bright yellow Oregon Sunshine flowers.  (Can't say as I blame them....I like those flowers too)

Another butterfly! (just 'cause)

I came upon some vivid red-orange Scarlet Gilia.  An unusual tube-shaped flower, it was one I'd only seen in the Central Cascades.

Scarlet Gilia

On my return trip, I stumbled upon a huge group of blue butterflies strung across some vegetation.  It was a regular butterfly convention!  (Wonder what they were talking about?)

A butterfly convention!

Luckily, the gang held still while I carefully snapped a few dozen photos.

Blue butterflies all in a row

I think these blue butterflies were my favorites.

Lovely shade of blue

After completing the Browder Ridge Trail, it was still early afternoon, so I decided to tackle one more hike.  The Iron Mountain/Cone Peak Trail wasn't far.  Known for it's spectacular wildflower bloom, I couldn't resist adding it to the day's agenda.

Nice evening light on the lupine

Leaving the trailhead at 3 pm, I knew I'd have to hustle to make it back to my car by sundown.  That meant keeping the photo breaks to a minimum.

Fuzzy butterfly

Turned out not to be a huge problem.  The wildflowers were pretty much past peak, and most of the ones in open areas had already been baked by the hot summer sun.  I ascended Cone Peak in record time, and only took a short break to capture a nice lupine patch and one more fuzzy butterfly.

Four-peak view from Iron Mtn

Then across a long saddle and up, up, the steep trail to Iron Mountain.  By the time I reached its summit, it was after 6 pm and the sun was quickly starting to drop.  Despite the late hour, I lingered long enough to enjoy the fabulous four-peak view and solitude (I was the only person there!)

Flower fields on Iron Mtn

Then it was a race to cover the final three miles back to my car before darkness set in.  I just barely made it!

Instead of driving the 3-plus hours back home that evening I instead found a quiet forest service road, parked for the night, and slept in my car.  I learned two things from this experience - 1.  With the back seat folded down, I just barely fit lying down, and 2.  Sleeping in my car is the most uncomfortable night of sleep I've ever experienced!  But waking up for a midnight potty break, I gaped in wonder at the star-filled night sky.

Color below the summit

So hiking the Central Cascade trails in early July was kind of a wildflower bust, but the concentration of butterflies made up for it.  (At least my readers have something new to look at if they're getting sick of flower photos!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Return to Flowerland

I'll admit it, I'm a flower follower.  During spring and summer my hikes are planned around the local wildflower bloom.  Whenever I hear an area is at peak, you can bet I'll find a way to get there.

Paintbrush going crazy!

One of the best early summer wildflower shows can be found on the flanks of Silver Star Mountain.  Located in SW Washington, this small patch of National Forest-designated scenic area is sandwiched between logged clear cuts and rural homes.  The Yacolt Burn, largest wildfire in Washington state history, swept through in 1902 leaving huge gaps where trees failed to reseed.  Luckily for us wildflower lovers, these bare areas have cultivated into spectacular meadows full of every color flower imaginable.

Pyramid Rock in morning light

Last year, the wildflower bloom was the best I'd ever witnessed.  As a matter of fact, my friend and I took so many photographs we joked about needing a flowervention.  With memories of last year's show still fresh, I was looking forward to my annual summer visit.

Beargrass bonanza

By late June I started getting reports that Silver Star's bloom was on.  Picking the final Friday of that month, I arose early to get a jump on the hikers.  With the numerous flower reports hitting social media, I assumed the place would be crawling with people.

Pretty white unknown flower

Many trails cris-cross the mountain, but access is primarily from two trailheads, the north Ed's Trail and the south Grouse Vista.  Parking at Ed's trailhead meant navigating a horrible rutted, rocky road, so I always head to Grouse Vista.  Arriving before 8 am, I was pleased to see only two other vehicles in the parking area.

Views from Silver Star summit

The only downside to parking at Grouse Vista is enduring a steep, rocky boring trail for nearly three miles to reach the mountain's base.  But that's the price of admission to these lovely flower fields, so I put my head down and chugged uphill.  About a mile and a half in, the forest cleared and I was rewarded with sweeping views of the surrounding forested (and clear-cut) hills.

Another summit vista

It was here that the flower show started.  Hundreds of bright orange Indian paintbrush dotted the adjacent hillsides. Directly below Pyramid Rock was a huge patch of beargrass, their mauve stalks standing at attention.  While photographing the sights a group of people passed by heading back towards the parking area.  Wondering about such an early departure, one person mentioned they'd tried to catch sunrise on Silver Star, only to be foiled by heavy cloud cover.

Flower show from the old road

Continuing onward, I dived back into the forest, and up more miserable rocky trail.  Finally, arriving  at the four-way junction below Silver Star's summit, a quick half mile climb and I was taking in the panorama from the mountain's very top.

Tiny aster

So far the only people I'd met were the group heading back to the parking area.  But, as I made my final steps onto the top of Silver Star, I noticed two other people were right behind me.  So much for having the place to myself!  But the couple that arrived soon afterward were very nice and we both marveled at the views and flower show.  After many photos and a good conversation, it was time to move on.

Mt St Helens hid behind the clouds

Despite an awful road, the hike from Silver Star's northern trailhead, Ed's Trail, is the most popular way to access this scenic area.  The trail boasts jaw-dropping scenery.  Following a ridgeline where on clear days, three snow-capped mountain peaks are visible, hikers meander through fields thick with colorful wildflowers.  Not wanting to miss this show, I decided to add a loop through Ed's trail to the day's agenda.

Lovely yellow butterfly

Normally, the best wildflowers can be found along an abandoned road paralleling Ed's Trail.  But approaching this road, I was disappointed to see the bloom was nowhere as colorful or diverse as the previous year.  Although it was still quite lovely, last year's amazing flower show had set the bar quite high.  I'm assuming our hot, dry spring months were to blame.

Sweeping views

Although the morning's overcast skies began to clear, the mountains remained hidden behind some stubborn clouds.  Mt St Helens teased a bit, her base partially visible at times, but that was the extent of it.  No mountain views today.

Trailside color

The old road meandered downhill, and although the mountains weren't visible, the adjacent foothills were.  It was still a perfectly acceptable view, and although the wildflowers didn't match last years phenomenal bloom, they still weren't too shabby.

Tiger lilies

Approaching the junction with Ed's Trail, the beargrass became more numerous until I came upon a slope covered with white, poofy stalks.  I love beargrass, so seeing such a large concentration was a huge treat.  Perfect place for lunch break!

Huge fields of beargrass at Ed's trail

Body refueled, it was time to tackle the wonderful Ed's Trail.  Wandering uphill along a sharp ridge, the flowers were at their colorful best.  Such a wide variety - beargrass, wild iris, tiger lilies, lupine, Oregon sunshine, and tons of orange paintbrush.  By now it was early afternoon, and butterflies began floating between the blossoms.  Truly wonderful!

Wild iris

My camera's memory card was on overload as I snapped image after image of this gorgeous alpine paradise.  I could see why so many folks braved the horrible road to hike Ed's Trail.  It's truly one of the Pacific NW's showcase hikes.

The amazing Ed's trail

However, despite the glowing online flower reports, Silver Star's trails weren't busy at all that day.  I ran into a handful of people on the old road, and only a half dozen on Ed's Trail.  Not sure if the cloudy forecast, or the fact it was a Friday, kept people away, but, hey - I wasn't complaining!

More butterflies!

Yes, Ed's Trail delivered in a big way.  I sauntered across the ridge, through an interesting rock arch, and climbed up a few steep slopes, all the way admiring more meadows of floral splendor.  Before I knew it I was back at the road junction below Silver Star Mountain.

Lots of color along Ed's Trail

Then I had to retrace my steps back down that miserable, rocky first trail back to my car.  Although the return trek is never as fun, I did encounter lots of butterflies enjoying the afternoon heat and partial sunshine.  Some of the butterflies seemed to follow me as I trekked down the trail.  And although catching them standing still was tricky, I did manage to capture a few with my camera.

Ed's Trail's famous rock arch

For all you photography geeks out there - Some readers may remember my purchase of a mirrorless camera last August, the Fujifilm XT-1.  After a undergoing a huge learning curve (the controls were totally different than my standby Canon 7D) I've come to love this compact, lightweight little camera.  It's a perfect size and weight for hiking, and produces images that are nearly as good as my Canon.  I've been using the XT-1 almost exclusively on most of my hikes this summer.  All photos from this post came from my Fujifilm XT-1.  You can compare with my photos from last year's trip (which were shot with my Canon 7D) and tell me what you think.

One more butterfly!

Although not as spectacular as last year's mega-bloom, Silver Star Mountain still lived up to it's reputation as the place to go for fabulous early summer wildflowers.