Thursday, August 27, 2020

Ape Canyon

Sorry to disappoint you, but this post is not about apes.  However it is about a great hike I took on Mt. St. Helens' south side the day before the July 4th holiday.


Tiger Lily


Yes, that day my trail of choice was called the "Ape Canyon Trail."  Apparently this canyon got it's name due to a report of some ape-like being residing in the forests on the south side of Mt. St. Helens.  Back in the 1920's a group of miners reported moonlit figures throwing stones down the canyon (in actuality it was kids from a nearby YMCA camp).  The legends persisted and eventually this canyon and a nearby cave were named after the alleged apes.


Ancient forest


But on this day it was wildflowers, not apes, I was after.  Rumor had it the penstemon bloom was in full force along the Loowit Trail.  It was high time for me to check things out.


First view of the mountain....but it's hiding


Anticipating holiday weekend crowds, I got an early start and snagged a coveted parking spot at the nearby Lava Canyon trailhead.  The place was crawling with mountain bikers.  Along with hiking, mountain biking was also allowed on the Ape Canyon and Loowit Trails.  Although not a huge fan of sharing the trail with two-wheeled traffic, at least the majority of the bike crowd would be creeping uphill in the morning.  And I've found the mountain bikers to be very courteous when sharing the trail with hikers.


Lupine and paintbrush


The Ape Canyon Trail climbed steadily uphill for 6 miles and 1300 feet in elevation.  The great part about this hike is while most MSH trails cross desolate plains decimated by the 1980 eruption, this canyon was spared from the devastation.  A lovely old-growth forest preserved from the blast began about a mile up the trail, dominated by huge fir and and cedar trees.  Wildflowers bloomed thick in the green carpeted forest floor.  This shady forest is especially welcome on hot sunny days.


Almost to the Loowit Trail

However, surprisingly today's weather was unseasonably chilly and cloudy.  Which was much appreciated by me as I slogged uphill.  The only downside - no mountain views.  MSH was shyly hiding her head in the clouds.

Heather blooming along Loowit Trail


Perhaps it was the cooler weather, or perhaps the early start, but I made good time ascending Ape Canyon, and before I knew it I had reached the junction with the round-the-mountain Loowit Trail.  Let the wildflower show begin!


Heather close-up


The first wildflowers I noticed were large patches of pink heather and cream-white partridge foot.  The blooms really brightened up an otherwise gray, barren landscape.


Colorful hillside

About a half mile onto the Loowit I began to notice patches of purple on the adjacent hills.  There was the penstemon I was seeking!  It was thick.  Every once and awhile the purple was accompanied by a small spot of orange - Indian paintbrush was also in bloom.


Partridge foot


The next mile took extra time to cover as I was seeing photo ops everywhere.  The penstemon was in top form, covering huge swaths of the ground.


The blooms turned an otherwise desolate landscape into a lovely purple-dotted plain.

Purple lined trail

Many of the nearby hills also sported their own purple patches.

Purple patches on nearby hill


The Loowit Trail eventually intersected with the Abraham Trail.  By this time, it was nearing noon and I was starving.  Finding a large rock nearby I perched on top and dug into my lunch.  It was a great break spot - I could see the Loowit Trail continuing towards Windy Pass, and also the Abraham Trail stretching towards Windy Ridge.  However all I could see of MSH was the base - her summit remained firmly hidden under a thick cloud layer. 

Junction to Loowit and Windy Ridge Trails


While I was eating lunch many hiking and biking parties passed by from both directions.  The world had woken up and it had become a busy day on the mountain!


Flower garden below trail junction


Looking towards the Abraham Trail I could see a large hill covered with orange and purple flowers.  It didn't seem too far away, maybe I could hike just a little bit more?

Colorful butte


I started down the Abraham Trail, only to discover after a quarter mile the trail dipped steeply downhill, and climbed back uphill after crossing a small wash.  Did I really want to do more climbing?  I'd already hiked 7 miles, which would make a round-trip distance of 14 miles so far.  Did I really want to add more mileage to my already large daily total?

Mountain bikers

And so, although the temptation was great to just keep going towards the colorful hill, I knew I was pushing my limit.  I already had a long return trip, no need to make it any longer.  So, reluctantly I turned around and headed back towards the Loowit/Abraham junction.


More beauty on my return trip


Hiking back across the Loowit I encountered large groups of mountain bikers.  I grew tired of stepping off the trail so they could pass.  I also ran into quite a few folks with large backpacks, trying to hike the entire 32-mile Loowit Trail.  I chatted with one man who said he had taken two days to cover the distance and encouraged me to backpack the entire trail someday.  "You can do it!" he exclaimed.  (I appreciated his vote of confidence)

Mt Adams peek-a-boo view


Nearing the junction with Ape Canyon trail, I noticed skies to the south clearing and got a good view of Mt Adam's snowy base.  Only it's very top remained in the clouds.  Sadly, MSH didn't get the memo and remained completely socked in.

The "notch" into Ape Canyon


I passed by the "notch," a narrow slot in the rocky cliffs that opened up into Ape Canyon.  At least the surrounding forest and hills were now visible - an improvement from the morning when I'd initially passed by.

And then it was down, down, down through the ancient forest.  I had to be very careful listening for mountain bikers barreling downhill as I didn't want to get run over.  Luckily all of the bikers I encountered were also on guard for hikers and they were good about slowing down. 


Friendly mouse


About halfway down the Ape Canyon Trail I noticed a small gray creature hopping in the middle of the trail.  It was a tiny mouse!  I crept closer to get a photo and the mouse didn't run away.  Quite the opposite, it hopped towards me.  At one point it even crawled onto my hiking boot.  I don't know if it was so young it didn't recognize me as a danger, or if it was blind.  After getting my fill of photographs, I tried to shoo the mouse off the trail into the forest, afraid one of the mountain bikers would run it over. 

One last pic of the spectacular forest

The last two miles seemed endless.  By now the sun was partially shining through the clouds, and temperatures were starting to become uncomfortably warm.  But finally the road, parking area, and my car came into view.  Clocking in at a little over 14 miles, my feet were happy to have the hiking boots finally off.  

But I was intrigued by the wildflower-studded hill I'd seen on the Abraham Trail and just couldn't reach.  Maybe I needed to approach from the opposite direction and start at Windy Ridge?  Not to spoil the surprise, but a couple of weeks later I did just that.  Stay tuned for a future blog post about that hike!

Saturday, August 22, 2020

The Birds of Cape Disappointment

In mid-June I got a new camera!  My first full-frame DLSR!  (For those of you who are not photographers this is a big deal, at least to me).

Of course I couldn't wait to try out my new toy.   It didn't take long for an opportunity to present itself.  The following Friday my neighbor invited me to accompany her on a bird-watching trip to the coast.

White-crowned sparrow

My neighbor was hoping to find some pelicans to photograph.  But our first stop, Fort Stevens State Park on the northern Oregon coast, was a huge bust.

Caspian Terns

Undeterred, she suggested we cross over the Columbia River into Washington and see what was happening bird-wise at Cape Disappointment.  After photographing waves there on New Year's Day (which after all that's happened, seemed so long ago) I was game.

Terns hanging out on the beach

We parked near one of the beaches at Cape Disappointment State Park, loaded up our camera gear and set out to find us some birds.  On our way to the sand, I spotted a cute little White-crowned sparrow who posed so nicely for me I had to take it's picture.

Tern with a fish

Once we reached the beach, my neighbor and I walked towards the crashing waves.  Suddenly she spotted a large cluster of birds sitting on the sand.  They were a flock of Caspian Terns which are not a species one sees everyday.

"Hey Bob, those weird ladies with cameras are at it again!"

These birds were taking turns flying over the ocean, diving down and catching small fish in their beaks.  My new camera got it's first real workout trying to capture the terns in flight with fish in their mouths.

Sleeping seagulls

A little further down the beach we came upon a large flock of unusual seagulls.  Instead of being all white these were partially gray.  My neighbor didn't know what type of gulls these were, but the birds didn't seem to mind two ladies with cameras snapping away.

Seagull telling someone off

Most of the seagulls were tucked up trying to sleep.  If one of us got too close, the birds would get up and walk a short distance away before settling down into napping position once again.

No one wants to play with this guy

The gulls were so used to people, we were able to get really close and capture some funny shots.  Like the one above.  It looked as if none of the other gulls wanted anything to do with this guy.

Tern in flight

After awhile we wandered back to the terns and got a few more photos of the birds in flight.  They were a lot of fun to watch.

Tern and ocean view

 And I got more practice trying to capture moving birds.  Not easy!

My favorite in-flight shot

I can't tell you how many photos I took just to get one good image.  Good thing I shoot digital and not film.

Osprey with his lunch

As we were walking back to the car my neighbor spotted an osprey sitting atop a nearby tree.  The osprey had a fish in his talons, and a crow was trying to steal it from him.  Trying to escape the pesky crow, he flew our way and landed on another tree right in front of us.  As the osprey resumed his lunch, my neighbor and I snapped images like crazy.  Opportunities like this don't happen very often!

Osprey taking his lunch elsewhere

Finally, the osprey got tired of the paparazzi and took his lunch elsewhere.  But my neighbor and I now had full memory cards and were ready to head home.  A successful day on the coast and my new camera performed like a dream.  I'm looking forward to many more photo shoots.


Sunday, August 16, 2020

Salt Creek Falls

I hope you can stand another rhododendron post.  As an added bonus, I've included photos of a fabulous waterfall! 


Salt Creek Falls

As you probably guessed by the title, the cascade is actually this post's main attraction.  Last June my hubby and I snagged a campsite reservation at Odell Lake in Central Oregon, just east of Willamette Pass.  Having never spent any time here, I found out that Odell Lake is near lots of great attractions - the Pacific Crest Trail, Diamond Peak, Willamette Pass Ski Area, and.....Salt Creek Falls.

Lovely rhodie-lined path to the waterfall's bottom

Billed as Oregon's third-highest waterfall, Salt Creek Falls drops an astounding 286 feet from the top of a columnar basalt cliff.  (For many years it had the distinction of being the state's second-highest cascade until 2009 when Watson Falls was re-measured and declared seven feet higher)

Pink rhodies brightening a gloomy forest
I'd passed by Salt Creek Falls a few times traveling on Highway 58 but never had time to stop.  Now staying at a campgound a mere 5 miles away, I pestered my hubby to go visit.  Finally on the final morning before packing up to go home, we drove over to check it out.

The short trail was lovely
Rain had fallen overnight (helping us to pinpoint all the leaks in our old tent) making for a foggy, overcast morning.  Perfect conditions to photograph a waterfall.  Pulling into the parking area, I was delighted to discover rhododendrons blooming in the nearby forest.  A flowing cascade and pink flowers - I felt as if I'd won the photographer lottery!
I spy the waterfall though the trees!
At the parking lot, there was a nice interpretive board outlining the geologic history of the area and a map of the local trail system.  There were loop trails to a couple other waterfalls nearby and a lake called "Too Much Bear Lake." (Which go me wondering what the story was behind such a funny name.)  However, we didn't have time for a long hike today, and opted to take the short, steep path to the canyon bottom and Salt Creek Fall's base.

It was even more impressive at it's base

We first walked along the observation platform at the waterfall's very top.  Salt Creek Falls was so tall it was hard to fit the entire cascade in my camera frame.  The platform wasn't sited very well, and it was difficult to get a good photo without including a bit of the railing.  (And I wasn't about to lean out too far - it was a long ways down!)
Due to a trail washout this was as close as we could get
So hubby and I decided to follow a paved path downhill to check out the waterfall's bottom.  The pavement ended after the first switchback, leaving us to trudge through a muddy trail.  But the foggy, rhododendron-lined forest was lovely and I didn't mind.

Climbing back up through the foggy forest
About halfway down, we were treated to a few teaser glimpses of Salt Creek Falls through the trees.  Then we came upon a huge washout that had obliterated the trail.  At these high elevations, winter weather can be extreme and it appeared a landslide had tumbled down the steep canyon walls, reducing the trail to a muddy boulder field.  The rocky, slippery slide area didn't look safe, so hubby and I wisely decided to go no further.

One more view from the top
Luckily the slide had also cleared a path through the forest and giving us a great view of Salt Creek Falls.  And we were close enough the waterfall's base that I could fit the entire cascade into the frame.  I happily snapped away, capturing the falls from every angle.  I had decided against lugging my tripod down the trail, so instead of silky water images, I used a fast shutter speed to produce splashy action shots.  The freeze action of water tumbling down looked kind of like a lacy bridal gown.  I was pleased with the results.
Rhodie beauty
After a good 10 minutes of gazing at the waterfall's base, a return of the rain got us moving back uphill towards the parking area.
Rhodies were thick at the top
Back at the observation area, I wandered around snapping photos of the prolific rhodie blooms lining the forest.
Raindrop-speckled blooms
Despite the rain, I had fun trying to capture a few more images of Salt Creek Falls, as well as the deep, foggy canyon far below.
Looking into the canyon below the falls
Salt Creek, just above the waterfall, was especially scenic. 

Beautiful creek above the falls
I love standing at the top of waterfalls, watching the water plunge over the drop.  Salt Creek Falls had a great place to stand and observe the rushing cascade.
The very top of Salt Creek Falls
With rhodies blooming everywhere, Salt Creek Falls won the prize for the prettiest observation platform. 

Gorgeous observation deck
As waterfalls go, I gave Salt Creek Falls a big thumbs up and "10" on my scale of impressive, beautiful Oregon cascades.
One more rhodie - just because!
Next time I visit (and there will be a next time!) I'm going to hike the trails to see Diamond Creek Falls and Fall Creek Falls.  Oh yeah, and I'll have check out that "Too Much Bear Lake."