Tumala Mountain and Plaza Lake

Saturday, September 23, 2017


Greg and I wanted to do Tumala Mountain and Plaza Lake in the same day. We could have parked at the Old Baldy Trailhead on Road 4610, but that would have required driving 10 miles of rough road. So we parked on Road 4614 where the Old Baldy Trail and Eagle Creek Cutoff Trail intersect. (By the way, 4614 is paved and passable in any vehicle, but is getting quite overgrown. It’s like a tunnel in some spots.)

Our friend Matt joined us today. We donned our packs and set off on the Old Baldy Trail towards Tumala Mountain. We passed a wilderness sign right away (the trail serves as the wilderness boundary), but there was no wilderness permit box (indeed, we did not see a permit box at any of the three trailheads we visited today). The clouds had not burned off yet and the forest was a bit foggy:

Tumala Mountain Hike

Tumala Mountain Hike

Tumala Mountain Hike

Tumala Mountain Hike

I remember coming across this last time I hiked here, and I still don’t know what kind of structure this once was:

Tumala Mountain Hike

We passed the junction with the spur trail to Tumala Mountain, but it was still cloudy so we decided to visit the summit on our way back. We continued on the Old Baldy Trail, now losing elevation as we descended to 4610.

Tumala Mountain Hike

Tumala Mountain Hike

We crossed a scree slope with a view to the south where we could see Tumala Meadows below. That looks like a cool spot to explore.

Tumala Mountain Hike

Looking back at Tumala Mountain from the scree slope:

Tumala Mountain Hike

The trail was in pretty decent shape except that it’s getting a big overgrown:

Old Baldy Trail

Matt tackled one small blowdown with his portable saw:

Old Baldy Trail

After a little more than three miles of hiking we reached the Old Baldy Trailhead:

Old Baldy Trail

Looking down the road in the direction we would have come if we had driven here:

Road 4610

The former entrance to the now-decommissioned Twin Springs Campground:

Decommissioned campground

Road hiking:

Road 4610

Saw this along the road near the Plaza Lake Trailhead. Something logging-related?

It was 0.8 miles from the Old Baldy Trailhead to the Plaza Lake Trailhead:

Plaza Lake Trail

It’s all downhill from here!

Plaza Lake Trail

There were a few open slopes where the vine maple had started turning:

Plaza Lake Trail

Plaza Lake Trail

Plaza Lake Trail

Still going down. There are some big trees here!

Plaza Lake Trail

We kept seeing the lake through the trees but the trail is so well-graded that it takes awhile to hike the numerous switchbacks down the hill. Finally we arrived, and we had the place all to ourselves:

Plaza Lake

The hiking books refer to a campsite at the lake. I think we found the spot, but it’s not a campsite anymore. It looked like someone’s campfire got loose and started a small brush fire. The ground was all chewed up and a big swath of brush had been cut at ground level. The smell of charred wood was still pretty strong so I think this happened not too long ago. I can’t find any “before” photos of this spot online, but here’s what it looks like now:

A fire burned here

A fire burned here

A fire burned here

We sat and enjoyed a snack, then explored the brushy trail that followed the shore on the north side:

Plaza Lake

A really really old trail blaze along the brushy lakeshore path:

Trail blaze

The trail abruptly stops at a wall of trees and brush:

End of trail

A long time ago the trail continued down the hill to the South Fork Salmon River and followed that river all the way over to the Salmon Butte Trail. Incredibly, someone bushwhacked the route in 2007. The trail shows up on the 1966 Mt. Hood National Forest map (below) and then the USGS 1980 Rhododendron quadrangle, but after that it’s gone.


On the hike out we saw a newt!


Road hiking back:

Then we hiked back up the Old Baldy Trail to Tumala Mountain. The view over the meadows was slightly less cloudy and now we could see the mountains in the distance:

On our way back up Tumala, just past the scree slope, we spotted an old trail heading downhill. Anyone know where this goes?

We reached the top of Tumala Mountain where the old concrete steps from the fire lookout still stand:

To my great disappointment, Mt. Hood remained stubbornly in the clouds:

Looking east:

Looking southeast:

Looking north with the base of Mt. Adams visible. Also, I believe that is Tanner Butte, left of center:

It’s downtown Portland!

Looking south:

Mt. Jefferson barely visible:

It was a long day with a lot of up and down. About 10.2 miles with 2300′ elevation gain. But a fun hike!



Salmon River

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rain was forecast for the next day – desperately-needed rain with all these wildfires everywhere – but in the meantime it was still pretty smoky. No point in doing a hike with views today, so we opted for the first few miles of the Salmon River Trail.

Salmon River Trail

Fall colors hadn’t started yet and the forest was still pretty green, albeit bone dry.

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

They really don’t want you to camp here:

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

The trail is at river level for the first couple miles:

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

There are some big trees back in here!

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

The trail ambles along through the forest with occasional glimpses of the river. There are numerous campsites.

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

The trail climbs up above the river and after about 3.2 miles there is a viewpoint looking down into the canyon. It’s pretty brown this time of year:

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

The canyon is deep and rugged here. Can you believe that there was a proposal in the 1960s to dam the river and build a highway through here? Now the river is a Wild & Scenic River and this area is part of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness.

Salmon River Trail

Salmon River Trail

We sat and enjoyed a snack, although it was VERY windy here.

Salmon River Trail

Looking down on the viewpoint before heading back down:

Salmon River Trail

There are some waterfalls down in that canyon. It’s rugged terrain down there and the falls are inaccessible. However in the summer of 1963, a subcommittee of the Oregon Geographic Names Board made a trek here and somehow managed to get down to those falls. (Read more about it here.) Final Falls:

Frustration Falls:

A few years ago some kayakers ran the canyon and Oregon Field Guide set them up with cameras to film the expedition. Here’s the segment:

Here’s my video of this hike:

Backpacking to Bear Lake

With HOT weather in the Labor Day forecast and no AC at home we wanted to head to the mountains to literally chill out. We thought about backpacking to Wall Lake (west of Olallie Lake) but thought there might be too much smoke, so headed to Indian Heaven instead, even though we knew it would be packed there. When we arrive at the East Crater Trailhead at 11am Saturday morning the car said it was 78 degrees, but it felt hotter than that. On the plus side, there were huckleberries available! We had hoped to find some on our hike, but didn’t expect to be able to pick them from the car. Sweet!


We hit the trail at 11:30, noting that there were no signs about a fire ban at the trailhead. That’s odd. It’s way too dry for campfires. We were glad for the cool shady hike as the temperatures continued to climb:



Sometimes our pace slowed to a tasty crawl as we picked huckleberries:


After 2.5 miles and an hour and 15 minutes we reached the PCT and turned north, passing Junction Lake. The lake was low enough that the outlet was bone dry:


In fact, every single creek crossing was dry:


We had planned to camp at Acker Lake, having read that there was a lovely campsite there. But we couldn’t find the trail down to it and in any case when we saw Bear Lake we decided that was a fine place to camp.



That little peninsula at the east end of the lake has “day use only” and “no camping” signs:



We managed to snag a campsite nearby, though:


Then we went for a swim. Ah, that felt good!


We spent the afternoon sitting in the shade by the lake, eating snacks and reading and staying cool. We saw several dozen backpackers arrive throughout the afternoon. There weren’t nearly enough campsites for all of them, so I don’t know where they ended up going. Some people just set up camp on the lakeshore where there were was plenty of dry land since the lake level was low.

In the late afternoon Greg took a nap while I went exploring. I hiked to trail’s end at Elk Lake, where there seemed to only be a handful of campsites. This lake only didn’t seem as good for swimming due its somewhat inaccessible shoreline.



Back at Bear Lake I read until dinnertime. The sun disappeared behind the tree tops at 6, and we enjoyed a long dusk sitting by the lake eating dinner and drinking wine. It was warm enough that we were sitting there in short sleeves and I was SO glad we were not back home in our sweltering house. Despite all the people that we could see and hear, we were all dispersed enough that it didn’t matter. No one brought along a bluetooth speaker (thank god) and all the noises were just usual camp noises. Several people had campfires, though, which seemed crazy to me. Not only because the forest was SO dry, but because who wants a campfire when it’s 80 degrees out? I just don’t get it. If you need a campfire when you go backpacking, then don’t go during a drought.

Sunday morning our blue skies from the day before were gone (we didn’t know it yet, but the skies were hazy due to the Eagle Creek Fire that started the previous afternoon). We couldn’t smell smoke, though, and the lake was calm and peaceful. It was nice to just sit there enjoying our breakfast, tea, and the quiet morning. One of my favorite aspects of backpacking!



Since we were staying two nights, today we decided to hike over to Lemei Rock and the nice viewpoint above Lake Wapiki.


Along the way we checked out Deer Lake:


And Clear lake:


Now that we were out and about we could see just how bad the smoky haze was. The sunlight was orange.


Along the last stretch to the viewpoint we got a view north to Mt. Rainier, whose summit was obscured by the smoky haze:



Lemei Rock:


We got to the viewpoint above Lake Wapiki. Mt. Adams was visible, but definitely shrouded in smoke:


Lake Wapiki:


Smoke and haze:


At this point we had a signal and although I normally try to stay unplugged in the wilderness I thought I’d check the forecast. That’s when I learned about the Eagle Creek Fire that started the previous afternoon and about the 150 hikers who had been trapped overnight and had to hike out to Wahtum Lake in the morning. The whole story was horrifying. And now we knew why it suddenly got so very smoky overnight.

Greg did the crossword while I read on my Kindle, then I decided to pick some huckleberries further along the trail. I turned around to bring some berries back to Greg and saw a huge plume of smoke rising up to the west.



The fire looked to be in the general direction of Bear Lake, so we quickly started hiking the three miles back there. From information we gathered from other hikers we figured out that the fire was near Blue Lake (which turned out to be slightly inaccurate; the fire was at East Crater), that it had just started this morning, and that everyone had to evacuate. Everyone at Bear Lake had already left. My guess is that they got the evacuation order shortly after we left on our day hike. Our afternoon plans for swimming and relaxing lakeside were not to be. As we packed up our site and the temperatures rose, I grumbled about the irresponsible jerk who didn’t properly put out their campfire and started a wildfire (they haven’t proven that’s what happened, but that’s my guess).

A firefighter we encountered told us the East Crater Trail back to our car was closed because the fire was pretty much on top of it. He told us to hike out to Cultus Creek Campground and a shuttle would take us back to our car. So we retraced our steps back up the Indian Heaven Trail, and when we passed Clear Lake we got a good view of the smoke. Holy crap.


At Cultus Creek Campground they had closed the trail:


Other backpackers also evacuated here, but there weren’t as many as I expected. I think most of them had already come out earlier in the day. After 90 minutes at the campground a FS guy admitted our best bet to get back to our car was with a member of the public, so we did just that. A huge thanks to Jack and Sydney, who were headed to Trout Lake and went out of their way to take us to our car. They couldn’t go the last 1.5 mile due to a ditch in the road that their low-clearance car couldn’t cross, so I ran the last stretch with just my keys and phone. I got to the car at 8pm after a long stressful day. So much for a relaxing day in the wilderness. But it could have been worse. We were safe, we were able to retrieve our gear, and our car didn’t burn up.

An hour later when we crossed the Bridge of the Gods, we got our first look at the Eagle Creek Fire and it was devastating. By then the news sites had reported that the fire was started due to teens playing with fireworks and we were shocked how big the fire got in such a short amount of time.

As for the East Crater Fire, it was intially reported to be 1,000 acres but once they got a look at the perimeter they revised that and today it’s listed as 467 acres. Cause is still listed as “under investigation”. I asked the GPNF on Facebook why there was no campfire ban in effect but they didn’t respond.


Slate Rock Lookout Site

Greg and I spent the third weekend of August in Detroit waiting for the solar eclipse. It was too smoky to hike on Sunday the 20th, so we crossed the Detroit Dam and geocached our way up Kinney Creek Road. The final cache of the day was at a feature called Slate Rock, and hey, it happens to be a former lookout site! We had done zero research on this ahead of time; I had just dumped all the geocaches onto my phone when I had a signal and now here we were.

The parking coordinates were about a mile down Road 640, off of Kinney Creek Road (2212). The person who hid the cache said the old trail was followable for part of the way, but you had to get to it first. From the roadside waypoint it looked pretty daunting, a thick wall of small trees and brush.


But once you pushed through that initial screen, it opened up into a mature forest, so we decided to go for it. At the “trailhead” we spotted an old road or trail signpost with the numbers 1, 2, and then a 6 or a 9. Cool artifact.


We headed generally uphill towards Slate Rock, hoping to pick up the old trail. There were a number of downed trees and – although they’re not present in this photo – a whole heck of a lot of rhododendrons:


We could not find the old trail, so we just pushed our way straight uphill. It was not fun. We reached a rocky prominence that turned out to be not quite Slate Rock, but we had some views:


We could see Slate Rock so we made our way over to it. Along the way we got a view of Mt. Jefferson’s summit poking up above all the wildfire smoke.


The Cascades south of Jeff:


Slate Rock, just ahead:


We found a buried stash of old bottles.


I was wary of climbing up Slate Rock because getting up isn’t the hard part; it’s getting down that can be tricky. But Greg headed up and took some shots on his iPhone. The views are still great up there, which is often not the case at abandoned lookout sites. Here, though, big tall trees cannot grow on the rocky summit:



Looking north. Mt. Hood towards the left; Olallie Butte towards the right:


Looking down:


A panorama:


Greg coming down:


At Slate Rock we could clearly see the old trail so we decided to follow it and see it where it took us:



Looking back at Slate Rock from the trail below:



The trail kept going. It was in surprisingly good shape considering how long it’s been abandoned. Sometimes the rhodies had really grown in, but the trail was still easy to follow.


Until it wasn’t. Abruptly we lost the trail. It didn’t seem to go straight so we switchbacked, but it didn’t go that way either. We were close enough to the road, so we just went cross-country, never seeing any more remnants of the trail. When we got back to the car we were covered in pine needles, leaves, and spider webs. The summit is only about 0.3mi from where we parked, but it sure felt further! I’m glad we checked it out, though. It was pretty cool. We said to ourselves that if anyone wanted to bushwhack their way up there, they’d probably have the summit all to themselves for eclipse-viewing the next morning!

Here is our track. The line on top (or the left, depending on how you look at it) was our bushwhack up. The bottom line (or right line) is the route back, mostly via trail. The big X on the topo map is Slate Rock itself.


When I got home I looked up the history of Slate Rock. The lookout was built in 1935 and destroyed in 1965.




Back in the pre-road days  a side trail from the Volcano Trail (which I mentioned in this report from last year) led up to Slate Rock:


The trail network is still intact on the 1983 North Santiam River USGS map, but the 1985 Lawhead Creek USGS map shows the road, with no sign of a trail. So presumably the trail was abandoned sometime in the early 80s.