Saturday, January 29, 2022

Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop in early June

I'm finally down to the last "top 10" hike recap of my 2021 list.  This trek took place in early June, when the Gorge was at its peak of spring greenery and wildflower bloom.  Looking for a quick midweek hike option, I went with the tried and true Multnomah-Wahkeena Loop.

Small waterfall above Multnomah Falls

This was another excursion with my favorite midweek hiking friends, Debbie and Barry (it's so nice to have other retired people that can join me on weekday adventures!)  They also were looking for a short, close-to-town outing and this trail definitely fit the bill.  And although the Multnomah-Wahkeena loop is wildly popular with weekend hikers, weekdays are much calmer crowd-wise.

Everything is so green!

Although the loop can be started at either Multnomah or Wahkeena Falls, today we opted to begin at Multnomah Falls and get the steep climb to the top of this cascade's 620 foot drop over with first.  The viewing platform was full of tourists, so we powered through the crowds quickly and I didn't get one photo of Oregon's most famous (and tallest) waterfall.  But that was ok, I'd taken many, many images of Multnomah Falls over the years.

Large overhanging cliff

A paved path followed the cliff beside Multnomah Falls, zigzagging steeply uphill for 1.1 miles.  The 2017 Eagle Creek fire burned through this area, charring many trees, but also opening up views of the Columbia River below.  The trail cruelly counts the switchbacks, which adds to the misery of this climb.  Each switchback had a sign bearing it's number (for the record, there are 11) and reaching the last one seemed to take forever.  After finally flattening out at the top, the asphalt ended and the dirt began, taking my friends and I across a delightful, mossy stone bridge spanning Multnomah Creek.  We then began climbing again, this time thankfully on a much gentler slope.

Weisendanger Falls

The trail followed Multnomah Creek, just a stone's throw away from its rushing rapids.  After passing one small cascade, my friends and I wandered underneath a large rock overhang, where our trail veered right next to the water.  On the other side of this high cliff, we got our first glimpse of lovely Weisendanger Falls.  Although having a mere drop of 50 feet (as compared to Multnomah's whopping 620) it was still impressive, flowing down the middle of a tall rock amphitheater.  

Climbing higher

Although the Eagle Creek fire had also burned through this area, the vegetation had recovered quite nicely.  Cliff walls, slopes, and creek areas were all bursting with greenery.  Ferns, grasses, bushes and wildflowers covered nearly every spot of ground (except for the trail, that is.)  The only indication that there'd been a wildfire was the abundance of charred trees, their blackened trunks a solemn reminder of the past destruction.

Wildflowers at the top of Ecola Falls

I love hiking the trail above Multnomah Falls, not only for scenic Multnomah Creek but also because there are two more cascades just as stunning as their taller cousin.  After Weisendanger Falls, we followed the creek uphill for a glimpse of the very top of Ecola Falls, a 55-foot beauty.  And bonus - there was a patch of vibrant yellow wildflowers lining the trail at this viewpoint.

Charred remnants of the 2017 fire

After 3/4 miles of more uphill travel, my friends and I came upon the junction with the Wahkeena Trail.  Leaving Multnomah Creek behind, we climbed steadily up a ridge full of more blackened trunks and ghostly gray dead trees.

Columbine everywhere!

Debbie and Barry are avid birders.  One of the reasons I like hiking with them is they are constantly on the lookout for birds, and almost always spot some type of interesting species on our hikes.  This time Barry discovered a couple of woodpeckers (I don't remember what type) hammering away at the blackened trees.  Apparently woodpeckers love old burned trees - these trees must be hosts for insects they like.

The burn area is recovering nicely

Despite all the destruction, we were about to stumble upon one of the bright spots of burn areas - wildflowers.  Just a short quarter mile up the Wahkeena Trail we began to see huge clusters of color poking out from underneath the vegetation.  Hundreds and hundreds of bright orange columbine blooms lined our trail.

More trailside wildflowers

Here's a sampling of the beautiful columbine flowers I photographed:

Pretty columbine bloom

Another columbine bloom

After passing the columbine blooms, we walked through an especially brushy area of the trail.  In amongst the greenery were hundreds, if not thousands of vibrant purple larkspur flowers, their tall stalks pushing high up above the bushes.


Oh. My. Goodness!  None of us had ever seen such a high concentration of larkspur in bloom!

Tons of larkspur along this portion of the trail

Of course all forward progress ground to a screeching halt, as cameras and cell phones were brought out to capture these wonderful wildflowers.  It was quite a show!

Wildflowers make for happy hikers!

It was the most wildflowers I'd ever seen here.  The larkspur blooms lined the trail for at least a good quarter mile.  Definitely the highlight of our hike!

I'd never seen so much larkspur in bloom

Another good thing that comes from wildfires - the ash from the fire makes for rich soil that supports the regrowth of ground cover and wildflowers.

Larkspur and Gorge views

After much photography and oohing and aahing, my friends and I finally tore ourselves away from the flower fest, and continued our hike.

Another larkspur photo

We passed by an area of huge old-growth trees that were thankfully spared from the fire.  My favorite tree of the bunch was an ancient Douglas Fir whose bark has been slowly growing around a very old trail sign.  The tree has been around forever, and I've nicknamed it the "sign-eating tree."

Sign-eating tree

One of my favorite places on this loop is Wahkeena Springs.  A magical area where water seems to bubble out of the ground, lined by tons of moss and gnarled old cedar trees.  It's the perfect spot for a lunch break.  And when we reached this spot, it's exactly what my friends and I did.

Wahkeena Spring

I'd been nursing a slight headache since late morning.  I hardly ever had headaches, so during our lunch break I did something I almost never do - I downed a couple of ibuprofen tablets.  Probably allergies causing my sinuses to ache, I reasoned.  After lunch was done, we continued on, my headache a tiny bit better, the meds starting to do their job. 

Bridge over Wahkeena Creek

The last leg of the day's journey was taking the Wahkeena Trail down hill, this time following Wahkeena Creek.  We passed charming Fairy Falls, but there was a large group of people at the waterfall already, so my friends and I marched past without taking any photos (again, I had lots of photos of this cascade from past visits).  Then I paused at the scenic bridge over Wahkeena Creek and made my friends pose for a couple of pics. 

Lemmon viewpoint

Before the Wahkeena trail switchbacks steeply downhill to the trailhead stands an impressive vantage, called Lemmon Viewpoint.  From this perch, one can see both directions down the Columbia River and across to the Washington side of the Gorge.  We stopped here for a couple of photos and soaked in the views.  I also got distracted by a nearby patch of gorgeous orange tiger lilies, one of my favorite wildflowers.

Tiger lilies blooming nearby

Then it was a quick downhill march on the paved switchbacks of the Wahkeena Trail.  Once we reached this trailhead, a half mile connector path took my friends and I back to the Multnomah Falls parking lot, where we'd parked.  On this final stretch I had one last wildflower sighting, some stunning purple penstemon blooms, which were captured on my memory card.

Penstemon patch to complete our wildflower sightings

The numerous and beautiful wildflower blooms on this trail was one of the reasons this hike made my "top ten" list.  The other reason?  Remember that headache I had on the trail?  Two days later I was in urgent care seeking treatment for a splitting headache that I thought was a bad sinus infection.  A week later I'd have surgery for what was finally diagnosed to be a brain abscess.  I'd unknowingly hiked that trail with the beginnings of an infection in my brain!  This jaunt on the Multnomah-Wahkeena trail ended up being the last hike I did for nearly three months.  (If you somehow missed the entire story on my brain abscess diagnosis and treatment you can find it here.)

So there you have it - recaps of all my top ten hikes for 2021.  Now to work on posts for some of the hikes I've done this month - I've explored a couple of new trails already.  Check back soon, subscribe with your email address (see my blog sidebar), or like my "Linda's Lens Blog" Facebook page so you don't miss anything!

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Boulder Lake - Bonney Meadows

It's time to recap another "top ten" hike from 2021.  In this post, the spotlight will be on the Boulder Lake - Bonney Meadows Trail, a hike I did with friends Debbie and Barry back in early October.

(If you missed the post naming my top ten favorite hikes for 2021, you can catch it here.)

At the first trail junction

Many years ago, a friend posted photos from a place called Boulder Lake.  The lake was rimmed by tall cliffs, and because it was fall, the cliffs were dotted with beautiful golds, yellows and reds of the trees displaying their best autumn finery.  It looked like such a gorgeous spot, I just knew I had to hike there!  I've been trying to get to Boulder Lake ever since.  Finally, on the one sunny day of an otherwise rainy week, I got my wish.  

Map of our route

Even though I'd just returned from a 3-day trip to Central Oregon, and was leaving for the coast the following day, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to finally check this hike off my list.  So early that morning found me in my good friends Debbie and Barry's car driving over Mt. Hood on the way to the Boulder Lake Trailhead.  It was quite a journey just to reach the trailhead!  After passing over Mt. Hood on highway 26, we turned onto highway 35.  From White River Snopark, we turned off highway 35 onto the first of many Forest Service roads.  I had printed directions from the Oregon Hikers website, and Debbie had slightly different directions from a hiking app (I think it was Alltrails).  Encountering a road closure, we realized my directions were probably outdated.  Good thing we had Debbie's directions!  These led us through a maze of FS roads, each in worse condition than the one before, until we reached the final road that took us right to the trailhead.

Climbing uphill to Little Boulder Lake

Whew!  It had taken well over 2 hours to get here.  After much-needed potty breaks in the bushes (no facilities at this trailhead) my friends and I shouldered our backpacks and headed up the first of many trails we'd follow today.  I included a map of our route (see photo above) to help explain all the twists, turns, and tracks for the day's hike.

Little Boulder Lake

Starting at the Boulder Lake Trailhead, we took a short quarter-mile path, past tiny Spinning Lake and reached the junction of the Boulder Lake and Little Boulder Lake Trail.  Which way to go first?  My friends and I decided to hike the loop clockwise, take the Little Boulder Lake Trail first, and save Boulder Lake for last.  (Little did we realize that this junction was merely a stone's throw away from Boulder Lake itself!)

Lunch break high above the lakes

The Little Boulder Lake trail had us climbing up a steep ridge past huckleberry bushes just beginning their autumn color transformation.  Then we continued slightly downhill before reaching the shore of Little Boulder Lake, rimmed by beautiful golden grasses.  Not far from this lake, my friends and I reached another junction, this with an old logging road.

Fantastic fall colors

We followed this old logging road for nearly a mile as it twisted and climbed through alternating forests and clearcuts.  The open areas had fantastic sweeping views of the valley below.  At a tight bend in the road, Barry noticed a trail heading off into the forest.  It wasn't signed, but with my gps and Barry's phone app (plus my map) we were able to determine that this was the next trail on the loop.

Looking down at Little Boulder Lake

This next trail, the Forest Creek Trail No. 473, took us uphill through a large brushy meadow (which I later learned was a recovering clear cut).  Now well past noon, my friends and I had grumbling tummies, so when I noticed a few stumps in a clearing I suggested we take a lunch break.  

More blazing huckleberry bushes

It turned out to be a great spot to sit and refuel.  Nestled among the huckleberry and manzanita bushes, and some short fir trees, my friends and I enjoyed the forest views.  

Must've been a good beargrass year!

Tummies filled, it was time to get a-movin' once again.  We continued climbing through old clearcuts, full of brilliant red huckleberry bushes and beargrass stalks.  Judging by the sheer number of spent beargrass I deduced it must've been a banner year for the poofy plants.

Some yellow and gold huckleberry leaves

Debbie, Barry, and I passed by one nice viewpoint overlooking Little Boulder Lake, nestled in the valley far below.  Then we ducked back into the woods, passing by an area of vibrant yellow and gold huckleberry leaves.

Sweeping panorama at Echo Point

Located at this trail's highest spot was one final viewpoint, named Echo Point.  Climbing steadily uphill it seemed to take forever to reach.  But once we crested the top, the views from here were definitely worth the slog.  We could see beyond the high ridge on the other side of the lakes, all the way to the plains east of Mt. Hood.  Outstanding!  I was glad we picked a clear-sky day to do this hike.

Lots of trails at Bonney Meadows

From Echo Point, our trail dropped steeply downhill until we reached the next trail junction at Bonney Meadows.  Lots of trails crisscrossed at the meadows, causing both Barry and I to consult our maps and gps tracks to be sure we were headed in the right direction.

Bonney Meadows

Although we could've taken the short 0.2 mile trail directly to the Boulder Lake Trail, my friends and I agreed to take the longer loop and explore large, grassy Bonney Meadows.  The meadows, golden with autumn colors, were quite lovely.  I also noticed the very tip of Mt. Hood poking above the trees on the meadow's far side.

The tip of Mt Hood was visible from the meadows

We wandered through the meadows for a pleasant half mile until the trail intersected with another road.  This miserable, rocky Forest Service road was the access to Bonney Meadows Campground and Bonney Butte.  As we climbed up this road, dodging potholes and large rocks, I couldn't believe people actually drove vehicles up here.  But as we cut through the campground itself, I noticed a Subaru parked at one of the campsites.  A braver (or crazier) person than me!

At the end of a terrible road was Bonney Meadows campground

Bonney Meadows Campground looked like a nice place to pitch a tent.  Too bad vehicular access was via such a terrible road.  On the campground's far side was our final junction with the Boulder Lake Trail.  Only 1.6 miles to Boulder Lake!

Crossing a huge talus slope

What goes up must come down.  After gaining all that elevation climbing up the ridge, the Boulder Lake Trail dived steeply downhill.  After a long switchback, my friends and I crossed several huge talus slopes.  The slopes were rimmed with more brilliantly-colored huckleberry bushes, their bright colors popping against the gray rocks.

More huckleberry loveliness

Traversing one of the talus slopes, my friends and I heard the distinctive "meep-meep" of a pika.  These tiny rodent-like creatures live in rocky slopes and are difficult to see.  Luckily I spotted a pika sitting on an outcropping rock.  Sadly I didn't have a zoom lens, so the little guy looks like a speck in all my photos.  But known for being shy animals, it's always a thrill when you can actually see one.

The underbrush was quite colorful

Past the talus slopes, our trail dived back into the forest.  This forest was the most colorful of all, its floor covered in huckleberry bushes of all hues.  I would've lingered longer taking photographs, except for the fact that it was late afternoon, the light was fading, and we still had a lake to reach.

Boulder Lake - finally!

The final half mile to Boulder Lake seemed to take forever.  The forest went on and on.  By now we all were feeling tired.  Where was this darned lake?

The cliffs surrounding the lake were lit up in fall colors

And then through the trees, I spotted water.  Our trail was still high above the lake itself, but after following it for a short distance, I decided to trek cross-country down the slope.  I was anxious to finally see this lake - someplace that had been on my list for a mighty long time.

It was quite beautiful, despite the late afternoon light

I arrived on the shore of Boulder Lake and gasped.  The far side of the lake was rimmed by tall cliffs.  Colorful bushes spread across the cliffs, displaying lovely shades of yellow and orange.  A grove of bright yellow trees lined the opposite lakeshore.  The trees reflected in the lake's still waters.  Oh my, it was as beautiful as I'd hoped!

Colorful reflections

The sun had already slipped behind the tall cliffs, and this fading afternoon light wasn't the best for photographs.  But I didn't care.  I shot image after image of this wonderful scene anyway.  I'd wanted to see this place for so many years, and now finally here I was.  It had been totally worth the long drive and hike to reach this special place.  

After finally tearing myself away and heading down the last of the trail, we arrived back at the Boulder Lake - Little Boulder Lake trail junction where we'd started our day.  And I realized if we had just turned right instead of left, the lake was maybe a dozen steps beyond this junction.  We'd hiked the entire loop first and saved the best for last.

Yours truly, enjoying the beauty

Returning to the car, it was now time to go home, backtracking through all the crummy Forest Service roads to the highway.  However, the day had one final surprise in store for us.  Heading over Mt. Hood the sun sank into a spectacular sunset, colors lingering in the sky for well over a half hour.  A good way to end what had been a wonderful day exploring a fantastic new trail.  

Monday, January 17, 2022

New Year's Day Hike to Dry Creek Falls

I'll write about the final two "top ten" hikes of 2021 in upcoming posts, but first wanted to share this wonderful spur-of-the-moment hike my hubby and I took on New Year's Day.

Snowy trail through burned forest

Although 2022 dawned to chilly temperatures, the sky was clear.  A winter day without rain shouldn't be wasted, so I proposed to my hubby that we take a hike somewhere.  The Columbia River Gorge is always a good place to visit, and I suggested we check out Dry Creek Falls.  A relatively short hike and drive to the trailhead, it fit the bill since we'd had a late start to our morning.

Snow-covered treetops

Over the holidays, the Gorge had received a large amount of snow.  Not only snow, the mercury had plummeted the previous few days, leaving many wet areas with a coating of ice.  I was secretly hoping we'd find Dry Creek Falls at least partially frozen.  

If I was to get my wish, weather was sure cooperating!  It was a bone-chilling 18 degrees when we arrived at the trailhead.  I bundled up in my warmest coat, hat and gloves before starting out on the trail.

PCT this way!

The trail to Dry Creek Falls starts in the town of Cascade Locks and follows the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for two miles before intersecting with an old roadbed that directs hikers to the waterfall.  The forest along this section of the PCT was severely burned in a 2017 wildfire, and remnants of this were evident from the number of trees with charred bases.

Downy woodpecker perched on a burned tree

The trail began with a steep climb and this uphill trek warmed hubby and I as we slogged along.  Passing one huge trailside tree blackened by the fire, we noticed a woodpecker hopping around the charred bark, digging for food.  Although I didn't have a zoom lens with me I made do with my 24-105 mm lens and got a couple images of this beautiful bird.  We stood and watched the woodpecker for a good 10 minutes before he got tired of us staring at him and flew away.

Snow made the burned forest look good

It was cold enough that you didn't want to stand still for long, and after watching the woodpecker, it was time to get moving!  Hubby and I sauntered through the beautiful, white-covered woods.  It's amazing how a coating of snow can make even a black, burned-out forest look good.

Our trail wound through the forest

Although the snow on the trail had been pounded into ice, we didn't have much trouble walking, probably because the grade was mostly uphill.  There were, however, a few slippery downhill sections where I was tempted to don my microspikes.  But hubby and I made it to the old road intersection without incident.

PCT bridge over Dry Creek

At the first trail junction, the PCT crosses Dry Creek via an elaborate wooden bridge.  Even though I've hiked this trail many times, it was the first time I'd seen this bridge covered in snow.

Icy Dry Creek

Our plans weren't to cross this bridge today.  The waterfall we sought was a quarter mile up the old road that crossed the PCT.  However, I couldn't resist making a detour to photograph the bridge and ice-choked Dry Creek running underneath it.

Looking upstream from the bridge

Images captured, it was then time for the short trudge up the road to reach our day's destination.  Snow-covered Dry Creek flowed beside our trail, looking absolutely magical with it's white dusting.

Our first look at Dry Creek Falls

I could hear the falls well before I glimpsed them.  A huge wall of basalt cliffs rose from the forest, and at a notch in the rock, Dry Creek poured through.  The cliffs surrounding the falls were cloaked in fantastic ice sculptures.  Dry Creek Falls itself was only partially frozen, fast-moving water preventing it from totally icing up.

Lots of ice on the canyon walls!

Oh, the entire area was even more lovely than I imagined!  I was psyched to find so much ice surrounding the falls.

Close up view of the cool ice formations

Out came the camera, and I immediately got to work capturing all this icy beauty.

Wide-angle look at the icy cliffs

Hoping to get some tighter shots, I edged as close to the gushing cascade as I could.  However, the waterfall's spray instantly froze on my camera lens (not to mention my glasses) forcing a hasty retreat.  I'd have to settle for more panoramic views.

Our "we were here" photo

Hubby and I were very lucky to have Dry Creek Falls all to ourselves nearly the entire half hour we spent at its base.  But the moving water and lack of sunshine made the temperature even colder in the waterfall's canyon and we were both getting chilled.  Time to get moving back on the trail.

Heading back through the snowy forest

Heading back on the PCT, it appeared the rest of the world had finally woke up, and we encountered group after group of hikers.  The temps had risen enough to make the icy trail slippery, and after a short stretch both hubby and I ended up donning our microspikes.  Seeing so many hikers without any traction on their feet (and some merely wearing tennis shoes!) made us fearful of accidents. We hoped none of them would end up slipping and falling.

Huge rock along the trail

It's interesting how the same trail can look different coming from the opposite direction.  I swear I didn't see this large boulder above the trail when we were heading towards the falls.  But I certainly noticed it on our return trip.  This huge rock looked out of place in the forest, and we both wondered how it got there.

Afternoon sun starting to peek through

After enduring cloudy skies most of our hike, the sun finally peeked through the trees in the final mile.  The light was so nice on the forest, I made several attempts to capture its glory.  But I find it never looks as good in the photographs as it did in real life.  Oh well, I'll keep on trying....


The best way to spend New Year's Day, I was glad to get outside and enjoy the dry weather, snow and icy waterfall.  Here's to the first of many great hikes in 2022!