Mt. Rainier Weekend

Greg and I had originally planned to go to Mt. Rainier for a three-day weekend in August. But this crazy dry year we’re having meant the wildflowers started blooming there about five weeks early. So we quickly changed our plans and went up there the weekend of July 10-12. Unfortunately for us, Mother Nature was a bit of an asshole about the weather.

Camping in and around Mt. Rainier is challenging. When we pulled into the Ohanepecosh Campground around 10pm on Thursday there were no signs saying the campground was full, even though it was. After slowly making that discovery in the dark, we went down to La Wis Wis, which is a Forest Service campground run by a concessionaire. We managed to snag a spot (the first-come first-serve spots are hard to find in the dark), set up the tent, and fall into our sleeping bags exhausted. (More on our experience at this campground at the end of the post.)

Friday: Looking for wildflowers in Berkeley Park

We were driving in a cloud for much of the way to Sunrise and it was very damp. We got to Sunrise Point and got out to look around. We had gotten above many of the clouds by that point, so we had some views, although we probably only saw about half of what was out of there.

Below the viewpoint on the north side was a nice-looking lake and meadow. So we decided to hike down there. When we were almost to the lake we encountered the first of two grumpy photographers on this hike. The guy had a long lens so I asked if he had seen any wildlife. “Yep,” he said, without looking at me. “Deer, elk….?” I asked, just trying to be friendly. “Lots of elk tracks” he said, without looking at me. Okay then. I’ll be on my way.

Sunrise Lake was quite lovely, and amazingly enough we had the place practically to ourselves!

A few little side trails from the lake go up to the edge of the meadow, but no further. Lots of great lupine there.

On the way back up to the car we passed grumpy photographer #2, except this guy was more than just grumpy. He gave us the most vicious and menacing glare as he hiked past us. Wanting to say something to Greg, I looked back to see if the guy was out of earshot and he had stopped on the trail to turn and stare at us. He gave off major creepy vibes and I was glad I wasn’t alone.

On to Sunrise and the hike to Berkeley Park. This hike starts in the alpine and stays in the alpine, which is a fun experience since there are almost no hikes in Oregon that do that.

Then there was this guy. Talking on his cell phone. While hiking. 🙄 🙄 🙄 🙄

Stopped at the Frozen Lake viewpoint for a snack and a rest. Lots of fat ground squirrels around here, no doubt getting plenty of handouts despite signs warning visitors not to do so. Greg got this nice up-close shot:

Continuing onward to Berkeley Park.

The best of Berkeley Park’s flowers were over, but there were still some blooming.

Marmot! (as photographed by Greg)

After circling the bowl, the trail bends toward the center of the park. Right at that bend is an unnamed snowmelt creek which was utterly delightful. Lupine, monkey flower, valerian, paintbrush, aster, and this yellow flower (can’t remember it’s name) were blooming all over. It reminded me of that creek that goes through Elk Cove on Mt. Hood.

Greg got a very nice shot of a butterfly here:

On the hike out we saw another marmot:

The clouds had lifted a bit to reveal the near mountains, although there was more in the distance we still couldn’t see.

Back at Sunrise:

Saturday: In which we hike in a cloud

We really wanted to do the hike to Summerland. It’s HUGELY popular because of it’s combination of views and wildflowers. The weather forecast for Saturday was almost identical to the day before. Since the clouds had lifted for partial views on Friday, we anticipated that happening again on Saturday. Mother Nature had other ideas.

There is very little parking at the Summerland trailhead considering how popular it is, so we got up very early, had a quick breakfast, and managed to snag a parking spot by 7:20. Then set off for three miles of hiking in a forest in a cloud.

After three miles we crossed Fryingpan Creek. We’re still in a cloud. This is not looking good.

We passed a nice patch of fireweed, which turned out to be the best patch of wildflowers we would see all day.

After climbing up, up, up from Fryingpan Creek…

…we arrived in Summerland and saw – wait for it – the inside of a cloud!

Except for the lousewort the flowers were past peak.

It was cold and damp and unpleasant. The hike isn’t worth doing without the views and wildflowers, and we felt pretty crushed to not get either of those. If we had known the clouds weren’t going to lift, we never would have done this trail. It was a very disheartening and discouraging day.

On the way out we passed at least a hundred hikers heading in. We thought the meadow area had felt crowded at 10:30. I can only imagine how packed it must have been by early afternoon. We also saw a group with a dog. Off-leash. No dogs are allowed on national park trails, and I’m sure they later got a warning from one of the three park volunteers we had seen earlier. On the plus side we saw a WTA crew doing trail maintenance. Yay!

Sunday: The Skyline Trail

Washington gave us a nice send-off Sunday morning by raining just enough to make our tent wet and un-put-awayable. We shoved it in the car and headed for Paradise. Our plan was to hike the Skyline Trail, which is a loop that starts and ends at Paradise. This was the “view” of the mountain when we arrived.

We debated whether to even do the hike. We were fed up with the weather after the previous day, and not feeling the love from Washington (this was the second trip to that state in less than a year in which the weather went sour on us). But we decided to go for it.

Saw two deer just a few feet away from the Paradise Inn.

The “view” of the mountain.

Here’s how that scene looks on a nice day:

The wildflowers in those meadows near Edith Creek were DONE. But further along we found this patch still in bloom.

And the western pasque flower was still hanging around too

And then, gasp! The clouds cleared for a brief moment and the mountain came out! It lasted for only a few minutes, and we never saw the mountain again the rest of the day.

There is this delightful little stream where thousands of monkeyflowers were blooming. I’ve never seen this many in one place before!

Me walking through the flower craziness, as shot by Greg:

Up ahead we could see people crossing a snowfield. Surely our trail doesn’t go there, does it?

Guess it does, because that’s Panorama Point on the other side.

So off we go. We were fine with our poles, but I wouldn’t want to try this without them. There is a higher alternate route that probably bypasses this snowfield. We had seen a junction a little earlier, but hoards of people had been standing around in front of the signs and we had just continued straight. I bet one of those signs said something like “less dangerous route this way.”

From Panorama Point the clouds had lifted enough that we had views of the near mountains, but we couldn’t see anything beyond.

Of course the locals were out and about looking for handouts.

On the descent from the point we saw several good patches of wildflowers that were still going strong. Crazy that we had to hike to 7,000 feet in mid-July to see wildflowers still blooming!

We saw several marmots on this hike. One of them was gobbling up the lupine blossoms at a very high speed.

Greg has a 300mm zoom lens now and got this great shot:

There’s a mountain in there somewhere.

By the time we got back to the car we had encountered several hundred people on the trail. The upside to hiking in a national park is the fabulous signage and the customer-oriented attitude of the visitor centers (which are – GASP – open on weekends!). The downside is the HUGE crowds.

As for La Wis Wis Campground, I’m not entirely sure I’d ever say there again. It is the most poorly-managed Forest Service campground I have ever stayed at. The three main issues we experienced were: 1) The first-come first-serve sites are scattered around and hard to find in the dark. There is no list or map of these sites. 2) The post-10pm quiet time was not enforced, and boy was this a LOUD campground. 3) The bathroom in our loop deteriorated over the course of our stay, from being clean and stocked Thursday night to being out of TP and not clean by Sunday morning. I wrote a letter to the GP Forest and to Hoodoo about it and have actually heard back from both parties, to my surprise.

Wildflower bonanza on Silver Star Mountain

With work schedules and other commitments, today was the only day that Greg and I could hike Ed’s Trail on Silver Star Mountain. Unfortunately Mother Nature decided to flip off the sunshine switch today, so we were cheated out of views. Thankfully the wildflowers were GLORIOUS!

A warning to those of you that go here. The last 2.7 miles to the trailhead are pretty bad. Large rocks, deep holes, deep trenches. Although I have seen low-clearance cars make it, I personally recommend a high-clearance vehicle.

Starting out from the trailhead, the flower show begins right away, as it always does in early summer.

When Ed’s Trail connected back up with the old road we abandoned our original plan to go to the summit and the Indian Pits. We were cold and damp. So we headed back to the TH via the old road, enjoying Mother Nature’s flower garden the whole way down.

Although the flower display is fabulous right now, there are some flowers that haven’t come out yet. The tiger lilies are JUST getting started, and the gentian haven’t started at all. The flower show should be good for at least another two weeks, depending on the weather.

I adore this hike. I can’t think of any other trail where the wildflowers are this abundant, varied, and widespread. You can’t go more than a tenth of a mile or so without seeing carpets of wildflowers.

Exploring the Kettle River Range

May 15-20, 2015

This year for our spring trip Deb and I headed to the NE corner of Washington to explore some hikes in the Colville National Forest. On our way through Kettle Falls we stopped at the ranger station and asked if they had any ranger district maps for the area. She pointed at the 14-year-old Colville National Forest map and said “that’s it.” Well, then.

We drove up Highway 25 to Evans Campground and got out to have a look at Lake Roosevelt. The water level is REALLY low, so it doesn’t look like much right now.

No lake

We stopped at St. Paul’s Mission. The guy at the museum told us that the lake level is always low this time of year. Because it’s a reservoir the lake would “reappear” soon for the summer recreation season, thanks to the Grand Coulee Dam.

Lake Roosevelt

The old mission building has been restored and is now open to the public.

St. Paul's Mission

At the mission is a cool old boulder with some history. This grooved boulder was a favorite whetstone used by Native Americans who camped along the Columbia River. It was left here by a glacier and is made of amphibolite, more fine-grained than local bedrock.

Sharpening stone

We drove up to Trout Lake and snagged one of the five sites. This campground is at the dead end of a five-mile-long gravel road. We had a nice private campsite with nice tall trees, and the lake was a 60-second walk away. The birds serenaded us from dawn to dusk, and the frogs took over at night. So awesome! It was, for the most part, pretty quiet. There was a bachelor party at the other end of the campground on Friday and Saturday nights, but they weren’t obnoxious.


Our bible for the trip was Day Hiking Eastern Washington, by Craig Romano and Rich Landers. I haven’t found any other hiking book, past or present, that covers this area with more than a passing mention.


Day 1: Hoodoo Canyon

Saturday was supposed to be the cloudier day (it wasn’t) so we stayed low and hiked the Hoodoo Canyon Trail, which had the added benefit of starting right from our campground. We saw quite a few wildflowers, including balsamroot, paintbrush, Oregon grape, larkspur, serviceberry, lupine, lilies, wild strawberry, violets, and pentstemon.




Looking down on Trout Lake:


When we stopped for a quick snack and some sunscreen we discovered that we each had ticks crawling on our clothes. We knew this was a “ticky” trail and we had done all the necessary tucking-in and all that. We both HATE ticks and we flicked them off each other’s clothes, which is actually hard to do! They stick like velcro! We flicked them off, returned to snacking and sunscreening and then they reappeared like something out of a horror movie. We think they were crawling up our shoes and onto our pants. Shudder.

We continued on to a sort of viewpoint where we could see up the canyon:


Then we turned and headed back to a junction where a side trail that goes down, down, down to Emerald Lake at the bottom of the canyon. It is a beautiful and aptly-named lake surrounded by cottonwoods. Quite lovely! Ticks be damned, we hung out here for awhile enjoying the scenery. It was turning out to be a warm cloudless day (so much for the forecast) so Deb even went for a swim!


After flicking the ticks off our packs and clothes we headed back. A tick inspection later revealed neither of us got bitten, thankfully.

When we got back to our site a large family was using the site next to ours as a day use area. When they left we found they had declined to take their trash with them. HUGE pet peeve of mine.



Day 2: Wapaloosie Mountain

It rained hard for most of the night. Having only expected a drizzle we hadn’t done as good a job protecting chairs, firewood, etc. as we could have. Sunday morning we headed into Kettle Falls for ice and a few other things. Since we had a signal I got out my phone to check the Forest Service site for trail information and got this:


They forgot to add: “Ha ha! Joke’s on you! We don’t keep any offices or ranger stations open on weekends so if you want information right now you are SOL.”

The Wapaloosie Mountain trail climbs up the east side of the Kettle Range and connects with the Kettle Crest Trail. I had hoped that the low snowpack and mild winter would mean that spring would have already arrived up here. I was wrong. The vegetation hadn’t leafed out yet.


After about a mile and a half of steep and steady climbing we broke out into meadows, which were still mostly brown. The clouds that we were expecting yesterday hovered over us, but fortunately we still had some views. Looking east:


Looking south at White Mountain, Barnaby Buttes, Snow Mountain, and Bald Butte. The rounded peak in front of Bald Butte is Columbia Mountain.


From the Kettle Crest Trail there is no path up to the summit of Wapaloosie, but it’s very easy to get there by heading  cross-country. Looking back at the snowed-under trail junction:


There’s a nice big summit cairn to let you know that you’ve arrived. (There was also trash to haul out, in the form of a liquor bottle.)


That is one rusty hammer! It seems unlikely, but maybe it dates back to the days when a crow’s nest lookout used to be here? (I didn’t even know about the crow’s nest until I got home, or I would have looked up in the trees to see if there were any remnants.)


There are no views from the summit, although you get a peek at some views a little ways off to the side.


And we could see tomorrow’s destination: Copper Butte.


We lingered on the summit for a bit then headed back down. Here’s an iPhone pano shot of the view to the east and south from the meadows (where the best views are):


Back at the campsite that evening while I was sitting and reading, Deb went down to the dock to see if there was any wildlife to spot. The bachelor party had left that day, but there had been some day visitors, including a family that had left just a short while earlier. When Deb came back from the dock her hands were full of trash. “Here is your irony for the day,” she said. “The weekend-long bachelor party left a clean campsite but the family of four who came for the day to fish just left their trash sitting on the dock when they left.” I seriously wonder what goes through people’s heads when they do this.

Day 3: Copper Butte

We decided to approach Copper Butte via the Marcus Trail, which is on the west side of the range, involving a longer drive for us since we were camped on the east side. Fortunately the previous day’s overcast skies were gone. We saw deer at the poorly-marked trailhead (they used a small trail sign instead of a road sign). We actually saw deer nearly every day of this trip.


The trail starts off by following an old logging spur through the White Mountain burn of 1988. The trees are growing back VERY densely.


Then the trail emerges from the forest and traverses the meadowy north slopes of Copper Butte. This is open range, I’m sad to say, so there are cow trails everywhere. It’s a mess.


There was a tangle of downed trees near a spring. I did not clamber across this log nearly as gracefully as Deb did!


More meadows!


A zoomed-in cropped picture of….a prairie dog? Not sure.


The trail meets up with the Kettle Crest Trail, which we followed up 1.5mi to the Copper Butte summit. Romano and Landers called this last stretch “easy” but we must define that word differently. Still lots of uphill to go! Then we encountered snow, unsurprisingly.


Mountains unfolding before us to the east:


We made it! At 7,140′ Copper Butte is the tallest peak in the Kettle River Range.


The ladybugs had just come out of hibernation, evidently. There were THOUSANDS of them:


There was once a lookout here.


All that remains are some rusty artifacts and a bedframe:


Snowy peaks to the south:


iPhone panorama:


Back at camp that night we forced ourselves to stay up late enough to see the stars. The days are so long that we hadn’t been able to stay up on the previous nights. We went down to the dock and looked up, surrounded by millions of stars and a chorus of frogs. WOW.


Day 4: Barnaby Buttes

For our final hike we headed up to Barnaby Buttes. You hike up the old lookout access road to get there, which switchbacks up and up and up to the crest of the range. It’s forested and shady the whole way up until reaching the area burned in the 1988 White Mountain Fire:


As with the other high-elevation hikes we had done, we were too early for the wildflower show, but did see a few glacier lilies (or are these avalanche lilies?):


Rambling north along the Kettle Crest Trail we had some pretty nice views to the west:


Hiking through a sea of downed trees from the fire:


The trail skirts the base of the butte but doesn’t go up to the summit. The access road used to go all the way to the summit, but time and the fire have erased all traces of it so you pretty much have to go cross-country. There are definitely plenty of downed trees to navigate, but it didn’t turn out to be that bad, actually:


Up on the summit are the concrete footings and steps for the lookout tower that once stood here:


Looking south at White Mountain (we think the smoke on the left is from a mining or logging operation):


Looking north at Snow Peak and Sherman Peak:


We relaxed on the summit, soaking up the views and sunshine on our last hike. Except for the birds and a few insects, it was very quiet.


On the way down we spotted a bunch of empties just off the trail, so we flattened them and packed them out.


When we got back to the campground we were surprised to discover a big RV there. There is no room for RVs here, so they had parked in the day use parking.


We later met and talked with the couple and they were nice. They said they had been coming up here every summer since 1969! They had arrived early and were expecting the grandkids for the holiday weekend. When I asked the husband if the lake was stocked he said “Of course! There would be no reason for people to come up here otherwise.” I beg to differ: the scenery, nighttime frogs, bald eagles, osprey, and other birds are reason enough for me!

Speaking of which, we enjoyed watching two bald eagles at the lake Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. They were trying to chase off an osprey. Turf war! Here are the two eagles up in a tree, one of them about to land:


We reluctantly headed home Wednesday morning. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring this area. Except for Hoodoo Canyon we saw no other hikers on any of the trails. We were early in the season, but I get the sense that this area doesn’t see too many visitors even in summer. (Craig Romano wrote a good article about the area for WTA and mentions that this is the place to go for solitude: What a great trip!

Cultus Lake

I try to do one hike every fall in the Indian Heaven Wilderness. Last year I visited the Red Mountain lookout, which I enjoyed immensely.

Since last Saturday’s forecast called for mostly sunny weather, I settled on another view hike in Indian Heaven starting at Cultus Creek Campground and hiking up to Cultus Lake. Saw some lovely vine maple on Road 24.

The trail launches strait uphill and is incredibly steep for long stretches. This section really could have benefited from some switchbacks! After a long lung-busting mile the trail reaches a viewpoint where you can see Mt. Adams front and center. On a clear day, that is. It was totally hidden from view this day.

To the north I could see Sawtooth Mountain and part of Mt. Rainier. The peaks in front of Rainier are in the Dark Divide Roadless Area, an area I had hoped to get to this summer, but ran out of time.

Steamboat Mountain on the left; Goat Rocks Wilderness on the right:

The trail travels through forest and the occasional meadow before reaching Cultus Lake, which is quite pretty. I paused here to eat a snack and enjoy the quiet.

After Cultus Lake I headed over to the viewpoint above Lake Wapiki. When I got there this was the “view” of Mt. Hood:

And Mt. Adams:

Well, so much for that. I turned around and headed back down. On the hike back out I took the short side trail to Deep Lake, which is VERY popular with the backpackers. Saw lots of tents there. Unlike many of the lakes in Indian Heaven, this one is actually deep enough for swimming. A giant cloud blocking the sun had finally moved aside and the water looked oh so blue in the sunshine.

Saw some fall color throughout the day:

And lots of mushrooms:

This is a really lovely hike. I just wish the weather had cooperated, but I learned my lesson: this is the last time I do a view hike with a “mostly sunny” forecast!

Bonney Butte

I’ve been wanting to head up to Bonney Butte in the fall for several years now, so I decided to go on Saturday. There was no way I was going to tackle the miserable access roads that get you to the foot of the butte. My Outback could have handled it, but it would have been a VERY slow and jarring drive and I’d rather spend that time on the trail. So I parked on Road 48 and hiked up Bonney Meadows Trail #471.

The hike up is totally uninteresting. The only thing worth noting is that right around the spot when I was below the end of Road 250 I smelled exhaust fumes. It was overpowering and nauseating and lasted for about five minutes worth of hiking. I don’t know who was up at the end of that road or what they were doing, but the fumes were BAD (and I don’t even have a very good sense of smell!)

The trail pops out on Road 4891. I turned left and walked down the road for about half a mile. It is indeed as awful as I’d heard, with rocky ruts and large boulders. I turned and walked up gated Road 130, the spur that gets you to the summit.

The Forest Service has built a nice vault toilet off to the side.

It was crazy windy at the top. I met several staffers from Hawkwatch International. They are up here August 27 through October 31 every year, counting hawks and banding birds. You can read more about what they do here It’s pretty cool!

There weren’t so many birds around that day because of the wind. But the views were still pretty nice. Looking down on the White River:

Mt. Jefferson just visible through the haze:

Mt. Jefferson and (just right of center) Frog Lake Buttes:

Mt. Adams:

Badger Butte on the left. Not sure, but maybe the hump on the right is Flag Point:

Grasshopper Point:

Looking down on Bonney Meadows:

More hikers arrived and one of them had a 10-week-old puppy with her. Cute! I’m a total sucker for puppies. This little gal was named Juniper and she flopped down on her back between my feet and chewed at my boot laces while I rubbed her tummy. It was pretty freakin’ adorable.

And of course lovely Mt. Hood (and the not-so-lovely scar of Mt. Hood Meadows):

There used to be a lookout up here, but like so many others it was deliberately burned down in the 1960s.

After enjoying the summit for awhile I headed back down. On my return route I popped over to check out the tiny Bonney Meadows Campground. This is the not the first time I’ve seen a place name spelled incorrectly on a Forest Service sign.

A few hundred feet down the road is the correct spelling:

Most of the sites were taken (much to my surprise, considering the horrible road). I even saw a low-clearance sedan in one site! Brave soul. The USGS map shows Trail 472 and Trail 473 heading out from the south side of the campground. I wanted to pick up 472 which would connect me with 471 and take me back down to my car. But I couldn’t for the life of me find either of these trails, so I just set off cross-country across the dead meadow. This was an incredibly un-fun off-trail trek through leg-scratching grass (should have zipped the pant legs back on) and boggy areas. On the other side I crashed around in the trees until I found 471. In retrospect I should have just gone back to the road and picked up 471 there.

An hour later I was back at the car and heading home. Next time I go up to Bonney Butte I’ll start at the Boulder Lake Trailhead. Although it’s more driving, it would be a far more interesting hike.

Olallie Lake Weekend

Greg and I spent the weekend hanging around Olallie Lake. I drove out Friday night after work and grabbed a spot at Paul Dennis Campground, setting up the tent in the dark in VERY windy conditions. I didn’t stake it down well enough and a strong gust of wind sent it cartwheeling, even though I had my sleeping bag and other things inside. I had to stop cooking dinner to grab the tent and stake it back down.

Despite the strong wind I set up the tripod for some shots of the night sky. A full moon meant that the stars weren’t as bright or as numerous, but it was still pretty nice.

Greg joined me on Saturday and we headed up to the Sisi Butte Lookout. There is no trail to the summit, but there is a road. The road is gated at the bottom to keep out the vandals (which only works some of the time, I’m afraid).

It’s 2.8 miles and 1,400 feet of elevation gain on this road hike, which is fortunately mostly shady. The road is in terrible shape (as are most lookout access roads, in my experience). It is very rough and rocky and rutted in spots. I’m not entirely sure my Outback would have made it up even if the gate had been open.

Not too far up the road we saw an RV parked. (We later learned that the guy staffing the lookout sleeps here and not in the tower.)

We made it! This particular tower was built in 1997. It is 50 feet tall and has an unusual eight-sided cab that I’ve never seen anywhere else. The previous tower that stood here was built in 1940.

A nice man named Floyd Walker was manning the tower and invited us up to enjoy the views. Unfortunately the views were pretty smoky thanks to smoke drifting up from the Lizard Fire. Mt. Jefferson:

Mt. Hood:

The bump in the foreground is part of Sisi Butte. You can see the layer of smoke beyond it.

Looking west:

Floyd said the forest didn’t keep a full-time lookout up here, just when the fire danger was high. He also told us that despite the locked gate vandalism is still a problem, even in winter (thanks to people coming in on snowmobiles). He said the lookout had been broken into in the past and items had been stolen. Vandals also stole the copper wire that grounds the tower in a lightning storm. Ugh. People like that are nothing more than pond scum.

Going down is always a little trickier than going up.

Back at camp that evening we were plagued by yellow jackets at our campsite. This area is notorious for mosquitoes in July and August but I didn’t know yellow jackets were such a problem later in summer.

We managed to camp right next to some morons who were listening to a football game on the radio Saturday evening. They apparently wanted the WHOLE campground to hear the game. Dude, that is TERRIBLE campground etiquette. if it’s that important to you, stay home. Don’t inflict it on the rest of us who are trying to enjoy nature.

The skies were nowhere near as clear that night as the previous night because of all the smoke that had blown in. But it was still pretty. Mt. Jefferson was beautifully illuminated by the moon.

Sunday morning we took a short walk along the shore of Monon Lake to find a geocache. Nice views of Olallie Butte from there.

We also did the short jaunt down to Lower Lake, which looks like it would be good for swimming.

We tried to get to Horseshoe Lake. I had heard the road was bad but passable up to that point, and that the road beyond Horseshoe was utter crap and pretty much impassable. However we discovered the road actually deteriorates much sooner than we thought and becomes utter crap after you pass Monon Lake. About 0.2mi beyond Monon we reached a bit that looked something like this stretch of road we walked down in the Willamette Forest last fall:

No thanks. I backed down the road until I could execute a five-point turn.

Beautiful weekend! Wish there had been less wind and smoke, but that’s par for the course this time of year.

Matthieu Lakes

After a cloudy weekend, the sun finally came out on Labor Day, so I squeezed in one hike before driving home. The loop to Matthieu Lakes is only six miles and is very pretty.

There were SO MANY CARS at the Lava Camp Lake trailhead. Lots of backpackers, I assume. The first part of the trail is in trees until you reach North Matthieu Lake. This is a really pretty lake that is a popular backpacking destination, despite the fact that it’s only about two miles from the trailhead.

This area is so popular that the Forest Service only allows camping in seven designated spots at this lake, and three spots at the southern lake. Same situation as you’d find at Jefferson Park, except that the Deschutes National Forest is WAY better at informing hikers than the Willamette NF is. There is a map at the trailhead and a map at each end of both lakes to let you know about the camping regulation and where you can find the sites. Wish Willamette would do this at Jefferson Park.

Onward to South Matthieu Lake, which is less than a mile away. This lake is smaller but even prettier, with a partial view of North Sister.

These lakes, by the way, were named after Francis Xavier Matthieu, who came to Oregon in 1842.

While looking for a private tree off the trail I discovered a view to the east. I think that’s Millican Crater on the left.

After enjoying the lake for awhile I headed back. This part of the loop is on the PCT and has some pretty great views.

Along with the views I could also see down to North Matthieu Lake:

Then the trail re-enters the trees and it’s all forest back to the car. While driving the short dirt road between the trailhead and the highway I saw a guy in his 50s walking along the road (away from the highway, towards the trailhead or campground). As I got closer I saw that he was stark naked except for shoes and socks. He didn’t appear to be in distress; he was just moseying along in his birthday suit. If he was walking from the lake back to his campsite, that would have explained the lack of attire, but that’s not the direction he was coming from. How random!

Scott Mountain

On Sunday my plans called for a hike up Scott Mountain in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. The weather didn’t look very promising but I crossed my fingers and hoped the clouds would burn off.

On the way to the trailhead I stopped at the Dee Wright Observatory for a view. Nope.

It was a balmy 45 degrees when I arrived at the Scott Lake trailhead at 9:20am. My normal trailhead routine involves bare arms and sunscreen but today it involved putting on a long-sleeved shirt and my down jacket. When I was planning my weekend I had originally considered camping at the small campground there (elevation 4,800 feet) and was glad I decided against it. Bet it was pretty cold the previous night! The mountains were not visible and I hoped the clouds would burn off before I reached the summit of Scott Mountain.

The trail heads off through the forest where I saw A WHOLE LOT of dead beargrass stalks. Looks like it was a fabulous beargrass year here!

After 1.5mi is Benson Lake, which is pretty big. It was very calm and quiet when I stopped. I rested here for awhile with my book, killing time and giving the clouds time to burn off.

If you scramble around the shore a bit you can see down on the lake and see Scott Mountain nearby.

This area is dotted with all manner of ponds and lakes. I bet the mosquitoes are horrid in July.

After 2.5mi there’s a side trail to a group of lakes called Tenas Lakes. What a pleasant surprise that spot was! The lakes were quite pretty, with these rocky cliffy shorelines that reminded me a bit of the Lakes Basin in Eagle Cap Wilderness (without the soaring mountain backdrop). I saw one couple camped here, but no one else.

Onwards through the forest and up to Scott Mountain. The summit is open and meadowy.

There was once a weird-looking fire lookout here (never seen this style before).

Scott Mountain

All that’s left is parts of the foundation and some other bits and pieces.

Looking east from the summit.

Behold the magnificent view of the Three Sisters! (or not)

Totally disgusted with the uncooperative weather, I got out my book and waited to see if the clouds would burn off, even though it was pretty chilly on the summit. It took awhile, but I finally got to see evidence of the Three Sisters before heading down.

I could go back the way I came for an 8.2mi hike or loop back for a longer 9.7mi hike. I opted for the loop, heading downhill on the Scotty Way Trail (chuckling “beam me up, Scotty!” as I went). The berry-picking along here was fabulous so my progress was slow.

Not sure which fire this was, but it looks like it was in the last few years.

I picked up the Hand Lake Trail and walked along the edge of the lava for awhile.

Hand Lake was all dried up, to my surprise.

For comparison, here is what it looked like on August 30, 2008. The only commonality here are the view-obscuring clouds!

After Hand Lake there are a few snowmelt ponds.

Then I was back at Scott Lake by 4:15, where the mountains were FINALLY making an appearance! About time!

During the cold, quiet, sleepy morning I had thought that Scott Lake looked like a nice place to camp. But in the sunny afternoon I changed my mind. There were people and canoes and kayaks everywhere. I think this place would be best on a weeknight.

On the way back to Cold Springs CG I stopped for a mountain view from Highway 242:

Also made a brief stop at Dee Wright Observatory, where it was cold, windy, and VERY CROWDED.

Back at the campground I ate dinner and hung out until dark. Then I headed back up to the pass for some star photography. Unfortunately a gigantic cloud was parked right above the pass, blocking out the mountains and the stars. So I went back a few miles to a place called Windy Point, which was living up to its name that night. Managed to get a few photos before I couldn’t take the bone-chilling wind anymore.

I was so happy to crawl into my warm sleeping bag back at camp, feeling very tuckered out after a long full day!

Alder Springs

With a three-day weekend I wanted to drive someplace a little further than I normally would, so I picked the area along Highway 242 just west of Sisters. I grabbed a spot at the Cold Springs Campground around lunchtime then went into Sisters to grab a quick slice of pizza before doing the Matthieu Lakes loop. (Holy cow, Sisters was a MADHOUSE that afternoon!)

It quickly became apparent that the weather was not going to cooperate. It was cold, rainy, and overcast. No mountain views. Of course, what else did I expect on Labor Day Weekend? After my pizza I sat in the car flipping through the Sullivan book looking for an alternate hike. I briefly considered Proxy Falls, but there was A LOT of very curvy road between here and there. It made me carsick just thinking about it.

So I decided on the short Alder Springs hike, which is NE of Sisters in the Crooked River National Grassland and which follows along Whychus Creek. On the drive out there I discovered that parts of the access road are quite rough and rutted. It started to pour down rain right around the time I got to the TH so I sat in the car and waited, pondering how this area boasts 300+ days of sunshine and less than nine inches of rain annually. I managed to hit one of the other 65 days, I guess.

Black Butte’s summit obscured by clouds:

The Three Sisters are out there somewhere in the clouds:

Dramatic clouds above the canyon of Whychus Creek:

Some of the rock formations reminded me of Leslie Gulch or southern Utah:

At Alder Springs the trail crosses the creek, which is an easy wade this time of year. Since it wasn’t exactly warm I opted out of the wade and made this my turn-around point. If you were to cross the creek, the trail keeps going another mile and a half down to the Deschutes River where the trail ends.

A good spot for camping is just out of frame on the left. I could see a few tents through the bushes. Even though campfires are discouraged here, someone was whacking away at some firewood during the whole 20 minutes I sat here enjoying the scenery.

On the hike back out the clouds were trying to break up a little bit.

This would make a great early-season backpack (albeit a short one) and it would be a lot prettier too, when the landscape is still green and not brown and dried out like it is now.

That night at the campground the woman camping next to me invited me over to enjoy her campfire with her, so I figured why not. We have a very nice chat. She’s from Colorado and has been traveling all around the west in her RV this summer, with her cute little dog Molly for companionship. She likes to ski and will head back to Colorado in the fall just in time for ski season. It was fun talking to her and I’m glad she invited me over. Fifteen years ago I never would have pictured myself carrying on a conversation like this with a stranger. I was too shy.

Backpacking to Elk Cove

After canceling the rest of our North Cascades trip because of the cloudy weather, Greg and I hung around Portland waiting for the weather to improve, then headed up to Elk Cove for a quick one-nighter before the dreaded Monday return to work. Glad we did, since the wildflowers were AWESOME!

On the drive up, just pass Lolo Pass we got stuck behind a slowpoke Lexus that was moseying along at about 15 MPH. It refused to pull over to let us pass, even though they clearly weren’t sure where they were going. We finally got past them where Road 16 goes straight (which they started to do) and you have to make a hairpin turn onto Road 1650.

There were 15 cars at the teeny tiny trailhead when we got there, and five more (including the Lexus) pulled in before we hit the trail. That parking lot is WAY too small.

The burn area has lots of fireweed in bloom right now.

Less than a mile from the wilderness registration box, shortly after a switchback, is a stretch of trail where the huckleberry bushes managed to escape the flames. They were absolutely LOADED with berries! Nom, nom.

Once we hit the Timberline Trail the wildflower show began in earnest.

We even saw some lingering glacier lilies. We speculated that there must have been snow lingering there later into the summer than the other areas.

The flowers at Elk Cove weren’t too shabby either.

The campsites are along the Elk Cove Trail, so after crossing the creek we turned down there and started looking. We only saw two sites and one was taken, so we took the other. We later discovered that it was literally a toilet, with tp bits scattered under the trees near our site. We even found unburied poop out in the open. Ick. The flies and mosquitoes were much worse at the campsite than by the creek.

It was a hot day so we went and sat by the creek for awhile, took our boots off, and cooled down. That water was COLD!

Greg wanted to see Cairn Basin and a lovely stretch of creek just beyond there and above the Timberline Trail. So we headed back that way, moving faster now without our heavy packs. Views to the north were hazy. No Washington volcanos visible. I wasn’t aware of a fire in the area, but we did repeatedly hear and see a helicopter in the Owl Point vicinity with a water bucket beneath it.

There’s that nice sloping meadow of lupine at the Vista Ridge / Timberline junction. Beautiful!

More flower displays as we hiked west.

At the top of the descent down to Ladd Creek I declared hunger and decided to head back. Greg decided he wanted to head back too. The light on Mt. Hood was looking pretty nice as descended into Elk Cove.

I took more shots of that fabulous creek. This is, by far, the most enchanting stretch of creek I have ever come across in all my hiking travels. I adore it.

We were too tired to stay up and wait for the stars to come out, so we went to bed before it was dark. When I got up for a bathroom break at 4am I saw that Mt. Hood was illuminated by the quarter moon. NICE!

In the morning we took our time with breakfast and packing up, lingering and enjoying the quiet before the hoards of day hikers arrived.

On the hike out, just above Elk Cove, a hummingbird flew into my shot! You can make it out below the row of paintbrush on the left. Neato!

It was still hazy, but we could just make out Mt. Adams.

On the way back down the Vista Ridge Trail we took 15 minutes to gorge ourselves on huckleberries. There were SO MANY. I have never seen such such a huge, healthy, abundant crop before.

Elk Cove has a tie with Paradise Park for being my favorite spot in the Mt. Hood Wilderness. Glad we got up there at the right time for some sunshine and wildflowers. Such a beautiful area up there.