Browder Ridge

August 13, 2011

Browder Ridge is the big monolith just south of Iron Mountain. (Here is a photo of Browder from Iron Mountainhuge f, as photographed by Greg a few years ago.) The route that Sullivan recommends is from the east side. Greg wanted to do the route on the west side because there were a series of geocaches along that route. I said sure, why not. But since this hike wasn’t in the book, I had no knowledge of what to expect. (I would later discover that the people who hid the geocaches clearly state on geocaching.com that the hike is 5.75 miles one-way. Very dumb of me to not read up beforehand.) I would find out on this hike how much I rely on having SOME knowledge of the trail before setting out, and how hard it is when I don’t have any knowledge.

We hit the trail at noon (which, we would later discover, was FAR too late for this hike). There was a sign at the trailhead with the most precise mileage I’ve ever seen on a trail sign. Precise, yes. Correct, no. (It was actually 4 miles, not 3.69.)

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After less than a mile we reached an ENORMOUS meadow that was 99% ferns and 1% wildflowers. The ferns were as tall as us in some spots! The meadow stretched far up the hillside, and our trail switch-backed up to the very top of this meadow.

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There were plenty of butterflies and bumblebees on this hike. I even got a shot of them together!

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After climbing up through the fern meadow, the trail leveled out a bit for awhile, passing through one meadow after another, with occasional views of the Three Sisters.

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Some of the meadows were nice little flower meadows, and some of the meadows were full of those huge ferns. The fern meadows were exhausting because the vegetation was growing all over the trail. Not so bad that we couldn’t find our route, but bad enough to slow us down. Plus we couldn’t see the trail beneath our feet and there were numerous holes and rocks to watch out for. So it was slow going through those fern meadows. This is a shot of the trail in a fern meadow. Hard to see, isn’t it?

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We hiked through a small burned area that looked like it was only a few years old. Anyone know more about this?

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After several miles we reached a flat rocky area that had a nice view of the Three Sisters. This would be a nice spot to camp, methinks!

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After four miles we reached the junction with the trail to Heart Lake and the summit. The trail thus far had clearly not been maintained in awhile, but this next stretch was even worse. There were a number of blowdowns, most of them old snags, some of which had been there so long that the detour trails around the fallen trees were far more prominent than the old trail underneath them. Crawling over one of these blowdowns I scraped up my thigh on one of those pokey branch stubs. OUCH.

But then the trail left the forest and passed through still more meadows, with ever-better views of the Three Sisters.

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As of the junction, we were now on the same route as described in Sullivan’s book. His suggestion for getting to the summit (the official trail doesn’t go there) is to cut cross-country uphill through a meadow until you hit the hiker-established use trail that follows the ridge to the summit. The geocachers described a different route, which turned out to be far easier. Right after re-entering the trees look for this snag on your left.

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Behind that snag is a big fallen log and beyond that log is the ridge trail to the summit. It’s fairly easy to follow. There are a few spots where it seems to end in a wall of trees, but if you go left around the trees it’s possible to keep going. This is halfway up the spine, looking back down:

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We reached the summit at 4:30, where we had amazing views in nearly all directions (this hike is advertised as having 360-degree views, but trees block your views in some directions).

Echo Peak in the foreground, with Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, and Three Fingered Jack beyond:

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Coffin and Bachelor Mountains (where we hiked the day before) and Mt. Hood:

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The Three Sisters again:

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Greg taking photos. You may notice some lupine here. There was a lot of it, but unfortunately nearly all of it was well past peak.

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The layers of hills to the southeast looked cool in the afternoon light.

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We were both running dangerously short on water. Fortunately we found a snowbank just below the summit and we stuffed Greg’s bottles and my camelbak with snow, which made for cold refreshing water on the hike back down. If we hadn’t found that snow, we would have run out of water about two hours before getting back to the car. 😯

It didn’t seem like an hour had passed, but it was 5:30 by the time we were able to tear ourselves away from our well-earned rest and head back down. With sunset approaching and more than 5.5 miles to go before we reached the car, our hike out was as quick a pace as we could manage.

At some point on the way down, we could hear what sounded like baying dogs way down in the canyon of Browder Creek below us. There were no campgrounds or anything down there, so we concluded we were hearing coyotes. The sound continued off and on for about half an hour.

Sunset occurred while we were still making the long traverse back. We didn’t have a clear view west, but I still got a pretty nice shot. A thick layer of low clouds was coming in from the west, and the leading tendrils of this cloud bank had already reached into the valleys and canyons below.

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It was dusk by the time we tackled the last mile of trail through the trees. Another 20 minutes and we would have needed our headlamps. We were back to the car by 8:30 and boy was I happy to see it! I was totally wiped and very hungry, facing a 45-minute drive back to Riverside CG and then dinner prep. (We ended up eating at 10:00.)

I have not hiked the other route up Browder, the one recommended by Bill Sullivan. But although our route was beautiful, it was very tough. I probably would not have found it as hard if I had been mentally prepared for that kind of mileage and if we hadn’t started so late. Make sure to allow plenty of time if you go this way and to bring plenty of water (I drank about five liters on this hike).

Bachelor Mountain and Coffin

Greg and I headed out to the Detroit Lake area on Friday and grabbed a campsite at the Riverside Campground, about 20 minutes past Detroit. Marion Forks CG was all full, and Riverside now accepts reservations so most of those sites were taken as well. We managed to snag the last spot by the river, where we set up our tent before heading off to hike.

Our first stop was Bachelor Mountain (map). From the trailhead we had a nice view of neighboring Coffin Mountain, which was our next hike.

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We hit the trail about 12:45 under gorgeous blue skies. Less than a mile into the hike we hit a meadow with views of the Three Sisters (no photo) and the meadows on Coffin Mountain.

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We ate lunch in the shade at the edge of the meadow, watching hummingbirds and butterflies frolic amongst the wildflowers, before moving on. The trail made a long traverse along the side of the hill, and we started getting a peek at Mt. Jefferson.

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Zoomed-in on Greg far ahead of me.

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Better and better views of Mt. Jefferson. Oooh, ahh!

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And then we views of the peak of Bachelor Mountain, which we hadn’t been able to see before.

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After a flat stretch through the old Buck Mountain Burn from 1967, we re-entered the forest where there was a junction. Straight ahead goes to Bruno Meadows, but we headed left up to the peak, climbing up first through forest and then along rocky slopes. The views got better and better.

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And then we were at the top, with AMAZING views all around us. Mt. Washington and The Three Sisters, along with flat, snowy Tam McArthur Rim (to the left of Mt. Washington):

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Mt. Jefferson:
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Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson again:
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Three Fingered Jack:
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And us!
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We could also see Coffin Mountain next door, and the little lookout at the top. It’s hard to see here, but it’s on the rocky bit on the right side of the photo.

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We found the geocache, which had only been logged twice in the last 12 months. With Coffin Mountain still on the day’s agenda, we reluctantly headed back down. On the way down the mosquitoes made their presence known, and before the bug spray came out I got several bites that kept me awake with the most horrible itching on Saturday and Sunday nights.

We were back to the car at 3:50 and off to Coffin Mountain (map) to hike it as well. We hit the trail at 4:00.

The trail immediately charges up the hill. At first the trail starts out in the forest, but soon enough we started having views of nearby Bachelor Mountain and Mt. Jefferson.

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The trail levels out a little bit before climbing steeply again through the expansive meadows on the slopes of Coffin Mountain. The trail makes a few switchbacks in the meadows on its way up. And up. And up.

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The enormous meadows that we hiked through were chock full of beargrass. Unfortunately, most it was WELL past peak. I bet it looked AWESOME about 2-3 weeks ago. Oh well.

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(That is not the summit in the photo above, by the way. You can’t actually see the summit until the very end of the hike.)

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For most of the hike, unfortunately, we could hear what sounded like logging operations less than a mile away. Sounds of heavy equipment and backup-beeping drifted through the forest to our ears. NOT the kinds of sounds you want to hear on such a pretty hike.

After a really tough and tiring climb (remember that we had already hiked up one peak that day), the trail finally leveled out on top of the mountain and we had a short hike through the trees before we emerged from the forest to finally see the summit and the fire lookout there.

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The lookout is closed to visitors, but the nice woman who worked there came out on the catwalk and spoke to us. She said the fire crew had packed her gear in on July 9, with just a few patches of snow on the ground! Considering the late snowmelt this year and the relatively high elevation of the summit (5700′) I thought she had only been there a few weeks, not a month+! Her lookout, by the way, had a feature I’ve never seen on a lookout before: a nice little deck with a mini picnic table overlooking the view of Mt. Jefferson. Now THAT would be a great place to eat one’s breakfast!

She has pretty awesome views in nearly all directions from that lookout, of course. Bachelor Mountain and Mt. Jefferson:

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Mt. Washington and the Three Sisters:

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The “other summit” of Coffin Mountain where the radio towers are:

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Although I don’t have a photo of it, we could also see the huge swath of burned forest from the B&B fire a few years back. Wow, that fire burned a lot of acreage.

Not far from the lookout is a place that the woman referred to as “the point.” We went out there and admired the lovely evening views for awhile before heading back down.

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On the way back down we came across this lovely spot after finding the geocache:

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We were back to car at 7:00 and then headed back to the campground for a well-deserved veggie burger dinner and cold beers.