Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Exploring Mt Rainier National Park's NE Corner

The idea for this adventure began, as many of my trips do, while reading a post on one of the hiking Facebook groups I follow.  In mid-September, someone posted incredible fall color photos from a trail to someplace called "Sheep Lake and Sourdough Gap."  Of course, I had to look up the location, and discovering it was adjacent to the NE corner of Mt Rainier National Park, decided then and there I had to go.

Technicolor slopes along Hwy 410

Since MRNP is too long of a drive for a day trip, finding overnight lodging was necessary.  A bit of research into nearby places to camp led me to the Silver Springs campground, just outside of the park boundary near Crystal Mountain Ski resort.  My grand plan was to drive to the campground first, secure a site, then travel back to the trailhead, located at nearby Chinook Pass.

Brilliant backlit mountain ash leaves

My plan worked perfectly.  Leaving Portland early one Tuesday morning gave me a mid-morning arrival at Silver Springs campground.  Although the $28 a site price tag at this Forest Service campground made me gulp (and this was for a regular site!  The premium sites were more $$) I sucked it up, chose a spot, and erected my tent.  I guess this place did have bathrooms with running water so that partially justified the higher cost.....

Sheep Lake

Then it was back on the road for a quick drive to Chinook Pass, the trailhead for today's adventure.  Arriving at the parking area, I was pleased to see the adjacent slopes dotted with huckleberry bushes in several hues.  Also, the mountain ash trees were sporting lovely colors of yellow and orange.  I could tell this was gonna be good!

Another view of Sheep Lake

The hike to Sheep Lake follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) paralleling Hwy 410 for the first mile.  Traversing a steep slope above the highway, this lofty perch gave good views of both the road and deep valley of the Rainier fork of the American River.  And oh were the fall leaves lovely!  Huckleberry bushes and mountain ash trees glowed in the midday sunshine.

Blazing huckleberry leaves

With so many photo opportunities, forward progress was slow.  But finally after a mile, the PCT veered away from the highway and 3/4 of a mile later I found myself at the shores of Sheep Lake.

Looking down on Sheep Lake near Sourdough Gap

As mountain lakes go, Sheep Lake was a gem.  Ringed by tall rocky cliffs full of fall finery, it was the perfect place to rest, have lunch, and take in the scenery.

Sourdough Gap

But as fantastic scenery went, the trail just getting started.  After filling my belly, I continued my upward trek, climbing high above Sheep Lake.  The views and fall colors just kept getting better, and my camera didn't stay in it's bag much.  I passed one slope that was positively blazing with color - huckleberry leaves sporting vibrant reds and oranges so vivid even my camera didn't do it justice.

Lovely mountain meadow

The higher I climbed the better the views became.  Ascending the steep valley I began to spot adjacent peaks, even a hazy Mt Adams way to the south.  Sheep Lake became a small turquoise spot far below.  The rocky cliffs rising from the valley floor added drama to the scene.

Fall colors along the trail and Hwy 410

Although the distance from Sheep Lake to Sourdough Gap was a mere 1.4 miles, the trail was much steeper and it seemed to take forever before I arrived at Sourdough Gap.  By now I was hot, dusty and tired.  When I finally reached Sourdough Gap, which was just that - a gap in the rock outcrop, I took some photos and turned right around.  It was too windy to linger very long.  In hindsight, I wished I would've stayed longer and took more photos.  Views from here were postcard perfect.  The continuation of the PCT led hikers through a dramatic steep talus slope and a line of mountain peaks stretched north and eastward.

Explosion of autumn color

But my body was feeling the effects of the climb and my foot was beginning to hurt.  So back down the trail I went, soaking in the incredible views once again, and taking a few more photos.  I'm sure I repeated quite a few photos of the colors and scenery.  (Did I capture an image of this on my way up?  I don't remember.  Oh well, now I'll have two photos!)

Looking towards the east from Sheep Mtn Trail

Hiking back along the highway, late afternoon light illuminated the fall colors, making for some impressive scenes.  Although I'd documented this section fairly well already, the light was so much better I couldn't resist adding more files to my memory card.

Backlit pasque flower seed heads

Near the trailhead, the sun was backlighting a bunch of Western pasque flower seed heads.  It was so cool I captured a bunch of images of the little mop-heads silhouetted against colorful leaves.  One of my favorite images from the day!

This slope was a patchwork quilt of autumn hues

Another favorite scene was the technicolor slope directly adjacent to the trailhead.  Several bright huckleberry bushes transformed it into a spectacular patchwork quilt of autumn hues.

Tipsoo Lake area

After my trek to Sourdough Gap, I'd initially planned to tackle the nearby Naches Peak Loop.  But the hike had absolutely worn me out.  Although I'd like to think I'm back to normal, I was still recovering from a very recent brain surgery (only three months post at the time).   My body was telling me to back off.  So taking heed I decided that instead of another hike, I'd make a brief stop at Tipsoo Lake to photograph the nearby scenery.


Red huckleberry bushes and cloud-covered Mt Rainier

The Tipsoo Lake area is lovely in any season, but autumn was especially stunning.  Along with more colorful huckleberry bushes, the adjacent grassy shores were also turning gold.  Although Mt Rainier hid behind a cloud, I did get brief glimpses of it's still-snowy base.

More backlit pasque flower mop heads

The mop-headed Western pasque flowers also put on quite a show.  They were especially photogenic backlit by the sun.

Trail along Tipsoo Lake

I walked beside both the upper and lower Tipsoo Lakes, capturing several great vantages of the lakes, adjacent mountains, and colorful slopes.  But the wind began picking up, and worried about my hastily erected tent blowing over, I packed away the camera and headed for camp.

Crimson-lined trail

I spent a relaxing evening at my campsite, eating and reading until chilly night air and fatigue from the day's exertions sent me to my sleeping bag.  I had planned another nearby hike for the following day and needed to recharge my batteries, for this trail would be much more difficult.  Two hikes, two days in a row.  Could I still do it?  

To be continued.......

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Sawtooth Mountain

Time for some fall color posts!  Autumn hues are peaking here and I've been on a photographic frenzy these past two weeks, trying to capture it all.  I have tons of images for posts lined up, and no time to write.

Fall colors started right at the trailhead

But first, catch-up time.  I'm going to take you back to one of my initial autumn color hikes - way back in mid-September.  SW Washington's Indian Heaven Wilderness gets the nod for earliest leaf turnings, and I always try to plan some hikes into this area to capture it's full autumn glory.  But on this day I wanted to try a "new to me" trail that came with some rave reviews - the Sawtooth Mountain Trail.

PCT hiker logbook at the trailhead

I think the main reason I'd never hiked Sawtooth Mountain before was the long drive to the trailhead.  Located on the north side of the Indian Heaven Wilderness, it was a 2+ hour drive over increasingly deteriorating Forest Service roads.  A drive like that called for some company - so I recruited my friend Catherine and her husband Larry to come along for the ride (and hike!)

Catherine and Larry check out the logbook

Even though the drive seemed to take forever, I was instantly redeemed when I stepped out of the car and noticed blazing red huckleberry leaves right by the trailhead.  Oh yeah - this was gonna be good!

Lots of interesting trail names!

Since our trailhead intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail, my friends and I were pleased to discover a hiker's register at the trailhead sign.  Catherine opened the box that held the log book and we enjoyed reading some of the trail names of people that had recently passed by - on their way to either Canada or Mexico.

Our trailhead

Our route for the day began on the Pacific Crest Trail.  We'd take the PCT south for about 1.5 miles, and then branch off to the Sawtooth Trail.  This trail would take us over Sawtooth Mountain for a couple of miles before rejoining the PCT.  Then we'd follow the PCT south for another mile before detouring to Wood Lake.  Our return trip would be entirely on the PCT.

Leftover beargrass and red huckleberry bushes

I didn't get even a couple hundred yards down the trail when my camera came out.  The huckleberry bushes were a spectacular color combination of reds, oranges and yellows.  Add to that dozens of spent beargrass stalks that by themselves were also photogenic.

Fall hues peeping out between the trees

The fall hues just kept coming - peeping out from between nearby trees, covering entire slopes, and lining the trail.  I lagged way behind, firing my shutter constantly.

Bright red and orange leaves

At one point, my friends were afraid we'd never make it to Sawtooth Mountain.

Beargrass stalks and Mt Adams

Here's a few more photos of all beauty.....

Huckleberry bushes were everywhere!

Yeah, every once and awhile I even get in a photo!

Surrounded by technicolor bushes

Finally I had to pull myself away, put the camera back in it's bag, and just hike.  Otherwise, we'd be here all day (and I really wanted to see all of this trail).

Color-lined trail

There were still berries on the huckleberry bushes, and when my friends and I walked through an area where the trail cut through the bushes, we scared tons of birds that had been feasting on the goodies.

Mt Adams at the first viewpoint

Coming upon the side trail over Sawtooth Mountain, we left the PCT and began to climb.  But our efforts were quickly rewarded - soon after arriving at a great overlook with killer views of Mt. Adams.

Mt St Helens from Sawtooth Mtn trail

Moving on, the trail contoured around the side of Sawtooth Mountain, showcasing nice views looking north/northwest, including a glimpse of Mt St Helens' barren summit.

Fall colors glowing in the sun

Huckleberry bushes covered the uphill slopes of Sawtooth Mountain, their red leaves glowing in the sunlight.

Catherine does her best Vanna impression pointing out the tip of Mt Hood

Rounding the south side of Sawtooth Mountain, eagle-eyed Catherine spotted the tip of Mt Hood peeping over an adjacent ridge.  She did her best Vanna impression as I captured the moment.

Picture-perfect viewpoint

Catherine, Larry and I came upon a ridge jutting out over the forest.  Not only boasting spectacular views, the adjacent slope was covered with red huckleberry leaves.

Enormous views

Oh my, what a grand panorama of forest and mountains!  (Thanks to Catherine for being my "view model!")

Red-lined trail

By 1:00 we'd made it all way around Sawtooth Mountain and started back towards it's junction with the PCT.  However, it was well past lunchtime and my companions and I were getting mighty hungry.  We had yet to see a good stopping spot, though.  Finally, I spotted an overlook with great views of Mt Adams and Sawtooth Mountain.  I suggested resting here for a bite.

Sawtooth Mountain and Mt Adams

Although this was a wonderful spot, it was in full sun, and with the day's heat Catherine wanted someplace shady.  No problem - I spotted a bushy area that appeared like one could wiggle underneath.  Catherine and Larry successfully tucked under the shade of those small trees while I lounged nearby.  We oohed and aahed at the views while filling our bellies.

Lunch with a view

It turned out to be a darned nice place for a lunch break!

Fiery red huckleberry bushes add color to the forest

After a nice relaxing break, we all shouldered our backpacks for the final push to Wood Lake.  Bidding the fabulous views and leaf colors goodbye, we hit the trail once again.  It led steeply downhill for another half mile before rejoining the PCT.  

Mt Adams needs more snow!

A quick mile jaunt on the PCT brought us to the junction with a side trail to Wood Lake.  Of course, we all decided to check out the lake.

Trail junction

This path led my friends and I through a brushy meadow, full of huckleberry bushes with ripe berries.  

Heading down to Wood Lake

Catherine and Larry couldn't resist sampling some of the goods!

Time out for huckleberry picking!

Then, we spotted water through the trees.  This must be Wood Lake!  A short, steep path led us to a lovely little body of water, ringed by tall fir trees.  Catherine spotted a downed tree along one shore, and just had to practice her balance skills (which, for the record, are way better than mine!)

Catherine doing her best log balancing act

While Catherine was on the balance beam, Larry was busy catching toads from the shallow end of the lake.  He's a middle school science teacher and is interested in all things of nature.  He successfully captured one toad, which I photographed for him.  The little guy did not look happy at all about being caught!  (In case you wondered, the toad was safely released after my photo session)

The lake formerly known as Wood Lake

After spending a good amount of time exploring this lovely lake, Larry, Catherine and I were packing up to leave when I spotted a sign tacked to a nearby tree.  It said "Wood Lake 1/4 mile."  There was a faint trail leading from the tree farther into the woods.  Apparently the lake we stopped at was not Wood Lake - the real Wood Lake was still 1/4 mile away.  We discussed hiking further to see the "real" Wood Lake, but by then I was feeling the effects of hiking 4.5 miles so far.  With that same distance to cover on our return trip I decided that was more than enough for the day.  

This toad is not happy about being caught!

So on we trekked, taking the PCT for the entire distance on our return trip back to the car.  Passing back through the colorful huckleberry fields, I couldn't resist snapping a few more photos of this amazing display of autumn leaf color.

Return trip through the huckleberry fields

A beautiful day in the woods!  I give Sawtooth Mountain trail two thumbs up for spectacular autumn colors.  It will definitely be added to the annual fall "must hike" list.

We covered 9 miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain.  This would be the farthest distance I'd hiked post surgery, and I later decided it was probably a bit farther than I should be hiking right now.  But I lived to tell the tale - and share my photos.  Enjoy all the colors!

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Morning at Hug Point

One of the joys of being retired - the ability to go somewhere on a weekday and avoid weekend crowds.  The Oregon coast is just over an hour's drive from my house.  One September morning I decided to visit Hug Point, one of my favorite close-to-home beaches.

Large rock on the beach

It was the Tuesday after Labor Day, and since school had just started for most folks I thought it would be a good time to see the beach without too many people.

Sunlight breaking through the morning fog

Hug Point State Recreation Site boasts a stunning coastline that features sea caves carved by waves from sandstone cliffs.  It also has a seasonal waterfall.  But best of all, at low tide visitors can access an old wagon road chiseled out of a rocky headland.

Unusual rocky shoreline

Another way to avoid crowds - get an early start.  Well, that usually works.  However on this day, although arriving shortly after 8 am, I was surprised to see several large groups of people already walking the beach.  And many of these groups included young children (shouldn't they be in school?)

Lots of people on the beach for such an early hour!

Despite the unexpected masses, it was a fine morning to be on the beach.  The sun was just beginning to break through a fog bank, sending lovely shafts on light onto the sand.  I'd timed my arrival for low tide, not only to access the old wagon road but also in hopes of seeing some tidepool life.

Looking towards Hug Point

A pleasant half mile walk from the parking lot got me to the foot of a large headland where the old roadbed was located.  There's also a large sea cave directly adjacent to the roadway's beginning and a nearby waterfall (which today was dry, due to the hot, rainless summer).

This old wagon road was blasted from the rocky headland

After waiting for a family group to climb onto the old wagon road and move a sufficient distance away, I clambered onto the rocky shelf for a look around.  This makeshift "road" was blasted into the headland rock near the beginning of the 19th century.  At the time, no highways existed on the Oregon coast, and the only way people could travel was to use the beach.  There was no way to get around Hug Point's headland, even at low tide, so early pioneers created this path to allow travel to proceed.  Hug Point got it's name because travelers using this primitive road had to "hug" the cliffs closely as they traversed around the headland.

Anemones in the tidepools on Hug Point

Because the Hug Point shelf is underwater during high tide, you can find sea creatures in pools of leftover water at low tide.  Right away I noticed one such tidepool was full of colorful anemones.

Beach views from the north side of Hug Point

After a few quick shots, a family with several kids crowded around the tidepool I was photographing.  Not keen on being around so many people, I decided it was time to leave.

More tidepool creatures

I traversed the short distance across Hug Point to the beach located on the north side.  Below the old wagon road were several large tidepools.  They were full of anemones of all sizes and colors. 

Green anemones squished together

Much photography commenced!

Loved the light on these anemones

I've been visiting this beach for many years, and I remember a time when the tidepools used to include seastars.  However, in 2014 an unknown wasting disease killed up to 90 percent of the starfish population on the West coast.  I understand that seastars are now making a comeback, but I've yet to see any in the tidepools in the northern Oregon coast.

A group of colorful anemones

Despite the lack of seastars, the variety and number of colorful anemones in Hug Point's tidepools more than made up for these missing creatures.

Looking south from Hug Point wagon road

After a good half hour tidepool photography session, I noticed the waves and ocean level beginning to increase.  The tide was starting to come in.  Time to skedaddle back across Hug Point!  Not passable in high tide, you don't want to linger too long and be caught on the secluded beach north of Hug Point. 

Ocean view from Hug Point

Hiking back across the rocky shelf, the fog had now lifted enough to allow capture of some sweeping ocean views.

Sun rays illuminate a heart in the sand

But there was still enough foggy mist to make for some cool images.  The sun's rays beaming down from shoreline cliffs illuminated this heart drawn in the beach sand.

Wonderful sunlight in the forest

And sunlight bursting from behind the trees in the forest adjacent to Hug Point's parking lot was spectacular.  Kind of looked like an angel descending from Heaven.

View from Crescent Beach trail

After spending a wonderful two hours at Hug Point, I drove back north to hike at nearby Ecola State Park, next to the town of Cannon Beach.  Taking the short, but steep Crescent Beach trail I slogged through lovely coastal forest, complete with more fabulous sun rays.  The trail offered a few glimpses of the beach to come.

Lovely forest on Crescent Beach trail

By the time I reached Crescent Beach, it was near noon, and the light wasn't great for photography.  But I enjoyed a quick break watching the waves crash on the sand and several pelicans diving into the ocean for lunch (about then I was wishing I'd packed my big lens!)

Although I live so close to the Oregon coast most of my time is spending heading in the opposite direction to the mountains and Columbia River Gorge.  This trip was a reminder that there's also plenty of good stuff to see if I point my car west of home!