A short trip to the breathtaking North Cascades

In late July 2010 Greg and I went to Mt. Baker. Unfortunately that was the godawful year when the excessively heavy snowpack didn’t melt until Labor Day. We couldn’t get to Artist’s Point and almost all the trails in the area were still buried under snow when we were there.

So we decided to go back. We had a 10-day trip planned; two days of driving there and back, a day of rest, and seven days of day hikes. As you will see, it didn’t work out that way.

I don’t think we’re going to get lost on this trip. (I may have a slight addiction to maps.)

Friday, August 8: Portland to Marblemount

Traffic: horrendously awful
Time it took to drive 280 miles: 8 hours
Which works out to an average speed of: 35 MPH
Number of sighs I emitted as we crawled across Washington: too many to count
Bags of ice that melted in the two coolers in the hot south-facing back of the car during the day: 6
Number of available campsites at Marble Creek Campground: 0
Kindness of camp host who let us pitch our tent in the campground’s picnic area: greatly appreciated
Rewarding moment of the day: hearing an owl hooting nearby just before we went to sleep

Saturday, August 9: Hidden Lake Trail

9 miles round-trip
3,300 feet elevation gain

After driving several miles on a steep, rough, narrow road (better hope no one is coming the other direction!), we hit the trail about 10:15. You start out in the trees for about a mile, then break out into a big meadowy bowl up which the trail switchbacks. As we climbed, we started to see lots of wildflowers.

The hiking books all talk about a steep snowfield that is dangerous to cross early in summer or in years of late snowmelt. I assume this was it, even though it was extremely tame.

As we climbed, we started seeing more and more mountains, including Mt. Baker, which was shrouded in smoke from wildfires.

We were hiking through an alpine wonderland and as luck would have it we just happened to catch the heather at peak bloom. It was absolutely glorious!

Greg’s foot was bothering him, so we’d been keeping a pretty slow pace. Also, he’s a very methodical photographer, and there was a lot to photograph, so at some point he fell behind and I kept going. I came around a corner and finally saw the lookout atop Hidden Lake Peaks, at center below (the other part of the peak is out of sight from this angle).

It was still really far away! This was a very disheartening moment. I had done so much climbing already and there was still so much further to go. But I pushed on, crossing several large snowfields that had yet to melt. FINALLY I reached the saddle between the two peaks. The trail officially ends here, although you can scramble up either of the two summits or down to the lake. A sign informs hikers that if they proceed they’ll be entering North Cascades National Park.

By now I hadn’t seen Greg in quite a long time and I figured his foot and stopped him from continuing and he was waiting for me somewhere back on the trail. So I made a quick scramble up to the lookout to find the geocache and photograph the lookout. There is a trail for a bit, then you have to scramble over enormous boulders to get to the top.

The geocache was gone, but the views were intact! 😀 Looking north:

A very smoky view to the south:

Looking down on Hidden Lake and the very rugged mountains of North Cascades National Park:

By the way, there are some really ominous peak names in these parts, including Forbidden Peak, Damnation Peak, Mt. Terror, Mt. Fury, and Mt. Despair. Sheesh! Makes you wonder if all these peaks were named by the same person, and what was going through their mind! After a few quick pictures I headed down and was surprised to find Greg waiting for me at the saddle. He had made it that far before “running out of gas” he said. Here is an iPod Touch pano he took from that spot (the foreground peak at of center is the other part of Hidden Lake Peaks; the lookout is on a peak behind us):

We sat and enjoyed the view for awhile before heading back down, enjoying the expanse of mountain views as we descended.

On the way down we saw a grouse family! We kept our distance but watched the four babies and snapped pictures. Here’s one of them:

Mama kept a wary eye on us.

Nine hours after starting out we got back to the trailhead at 7:15, tired, dusty, and hungry. This was a VERY tough hike due to the elevation gain and the fact that you are hiking in open sun for most of the time. But the scenery was spectacular! I’m glad we did it.

Sunday, August 10: Cascade Pass

9.4 miles round-trip
2,600 feet elevation gain

The trail up to Cascade Pass is the most popular hike in North Cascades National Park, despite the fact that you have to drive 23 miles down Cascade River Road (more than half it gravel) to get to the trailhead. We knew it would be crowded on a Sunday, but we were leaving the area that evening, so it was now or never. The views start at the trailhead, where mountains tower above you in every direction. As I read somewhere, it is Washington’s most scenic parking lot. 😀

After gaining a lot of elevation via 33 well-graded switchbacks in the shady forest (where we had PLENTY of mosquitoes for company), the trail breaks out above the tree line. Let the gawking begin!

Of course we heard pikas in the rockslide areas. We always do. But it’s rare to see them, and even rarer to see them for more than a few seconds. But to our delight this little guy acted curious. He started out on the rocks high above us, then eventually made his way down to trailside until he was about two feet away, where he scampered around for several minutes posing for us (or so it seemed). Greg (the pika papparazzi!) got these great pictures. We couldn’t believe our luck!

On to the pass! It was pretty crowded there, as we knew it would be. We hadn’t gone more than 10 minutes on the trail without seeing other hikers.

The views were great at Cascade Pass, but we decided to continue one mile further up Sahale Arm for even better views. I could use a lot of inappropriate expletives to describe this “trail” (ha!) but I’ll keep it clean and just say that it was rough, rocky, and steep and that it SUCKED. (Although it WAS scenic, I’ll give you that.)

Finally we reached our destination: the viewpoint over Doubtful Lake (we didn’t have the time or energy to go down to the lake or to go all the way to the end of Sahale Arm). Views were spread out at our feet. WOW.

Here is a pano Greg took with his iPod Touch:

Earlier at the pass we had heard hikers tell a park ranger that a bear had been seen swimming in the lake. She said it was probably a black bear because there really aren’t any grizzlies in the park. By the time we got up to the lake viewpoint the bear was no longer swimming, but he was roaming on a steep grassy slope above the lake. He was REALLY far away, but you can just make out a brown blob in the center of the photo below. That’s him (or her).

We sat and ate our snacks and soaked up the jaw-dropping scenery before tearing ourselves away to head back down to the pass, then back down the trail to the car. So hard to leave.

That evening we moved camp over to Boulder Creek (near Baker Lake) to be close to our next hike. We had a signal briefly and saw that the weather forecast had changed dramatically from the last time we had seen it. After Monday the rest of the week was not looking good at all. This put a big damper on the jubilant mood we’d had from two days of breathtaking hikes. We decided to carry on with our plan for Monday, and check the weather again on Tuesday, which was our rest-and-shower day.

Monday, August 11: Park Butte

7.5 miles
2,200 feet elevation gain

When we did this hike in 2010 the upper parts of the trail were totally buried under snow. So we were looking forward to doing this hike again, sans snow. We also got to enjoy a MUCH less crowded weekday hike here this time around.

We could see and smell smoke right from the trailhead, which would not really let up for the whole hike. Rocky Creek was bridgeless three years ago, but has a bridge now.

After climbing up, up, up through the trees (where huckleberries made for tasty snacking) the trail breaks out into the alpine meadows. In addition to the in-your-face Baker views there was heather blooming EVERYWHERE, as well as some other wildflowers. This was all buried under several feet of snow last time so we were blown away with this flower display.

The trail crosses a big depression/bowl before climbing again. Here is the bowl on July 24, 2010:

A MUCH different look on August 11, 2014:

We took a side trip to the famous mountain-reflecting tarns (buried under snow last time) where we rested for awhile and soaked in the awesomeness before moving on.

Almost there!

The lookout has a MIGHTY fine view of Mt. Baker:

There are also supposed to be stunning views in the other directions, but due to wildfire smoke drifting around us we didn’t get to see those views this time. Here’s what the view to the east looked like in 2010.

This time:

Looking west at Twin Sister Mountain in 2010:

This time:

Somehow we managed to get lucky and except for one woman and her dog we had the lookout all to ourselves for the 40 minutes that we were there. We sat on the catwalk facing Mt. Baker and just soaked it all in. Amazing!

Heading back we had Mt. Baker looming above us.

Great hike! No wonder it’s so popular. If you’re lucky enough to get the combination of blooming meadows and clear skies, then all the better.

Tuesday, August 12: Showers!

This was our planned rest-up-and-take-a-shower day. In Sedro-Woolley we checked the forecast again, which had not improved. Our plan was to spend the rest of the week along the Mt. Baker Highway doing the Chain Lakes loop, Lake Ann, Yellow Aster Butte, and Skyline Divide, all of which had views that we weren’t going to get with the clouds that were rolling in.

We tossed around several backup plans. Vancouver, BC (a city we love) was oh so close, but of course we didn’t have our passports with us. The Okanongan National Forest east of us was probably drier, but it was probably also very smoky from the wildfires. We’ve been wanting to go to Mt. Rainier for awhile, but the forecast there was no better. So we decided to stick to our plan and hope that the weather system would skedaddle after a few days and we’d get a few good hiking days afterward.

We set up camp at Silver Fir Campground and made dinner. Then we drove up to Picture Lake to see that classic view of Mt. Shuksan. The mosquitoes kept us company, along with two guys who had flown in from somewhere to visit the area. I felt bad that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate for them.

Wednesday, August 13: Home

It poured down rain most of the night. We had one 30-minute thunderstorm but other than that it was just a January-like downpour. In the morning mud was splattered all along the lower walls of the tent.

My phone had a signal just long enough to download the weather forecast. Instead of getting better, the forecast was getting worse. Our four remaining hiking days had a 30-60% chance of showers. And all four days repeated the dreaded phrase “mostly cloudy.” Neither of us wanted to waste our time and effort doing hikes that were supposed to give us sweeping mountain views that we weren’t going to get.

It has been an immensely stressful year for me and I really needed my long-awaited week in the mountains. But I did not need four days holed up in a tent in the rain. So with crushing disappointment we decided to pack up and head home. I felt cheated, especially since snow kept us from doing this hikes once before. It’s a long drive to get up here, too far for a weekend, and who knows when we’ll have a chance to come back. I know that I’ve chosen a hobby that is subject to the whims of Mother Nature and I just have to accept that, but it’s small consolation when you’ve used up every last hour of vacation time on a trip that has been cut short.

I’m pretty bummed about the hikes I missed out on, but glad for what I did get to see. This area is just breathtakingly spectacular. You could gather a dozen adjectives from the dictionary to describe this place and still not come close. I look forward to going back someday. Third time’s the charm, right?

Diamond Peak Wilderness

I spent the weekend exploring the Middle Fork of the Willamette River and the east side of the Diamond Peak Wilderness. Due to the heat I didn’t get to do as much exploring as I would have liked, but I got a few good hikes in. The first one was to Divide Lake.

Really old signboard with no signs and no wilderness permits:

And this sign has seen better days:

Less than a mile into the hike I passed Notch Lake. From the west end it didn’t look like much more than a murky pond:

But from the east end it was much prettier:

Unfortunately this is where the mosquitoes caught up to me. They were the most aggressive mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered. It was WAY too hot to zip my pant legs back on and to put on my long sleeves, so I doused myself in bug spray, put on the hated head net, and kept hiking.

I turned onto the Mt. Yoran Trail and started climbing. After reaching the top of the ridge I started getting views of Diamond Peak. After seeing this mountain from a distance more times than I can count, it was cool to finally see it up close!

After three miles the trail passes right under Mt. Yoran and comes to Divide Lake, a tiny but gorgeous little lake backdropped beautifully by Mt. Yoran. (By the way, if you’re looking for a good backcountry lake for swimming, this is it. Nice and deep!)

You can also seen an unnamed rocky peak towering above the lake:

The weather was a bit breezy so I sat and enjoyed the mosquito-free view for awhile. Then a gigantic cloud moved in front of the sun. Then the breeze died down and the mosquitoes came back. I badly wanted to linger and enjoy this beautiful place, but the mosquitoes forced me to get moving.

Before I headed back I explored the two little ponds just beyond the lake. There are some good campsites here. At the first pond you can just get a glimpse of Diamond Peak through the trees, and the second pond has a decent view of Mt. Yoran.

On the hike out I almost stepped on this little guy, who hopped off the trail just in the nick of time then stayed still just long enough so I could take a picture. What good camo!

After the hike I took a look at the map and realized I was very very close to the Hemlock Butte trailhead. Hemlock Butte is a former lookout site and there is a geocache at the top, plus the trail is only half a mile so I decided to give it a go. But the trail hasn’t seen maintenance in many years. It is overgrown, plus within the first 0.1mi I came across half a dozen downed trees. I’d already hiked eight miles and it was a hot afternoon. I wasn’t up for tackling half a mile of this:

On Friday I hiked to Marie and Rockpile Lakes in a different part of the Diamond Peak Wilderness.

The trail does some stiff climbing for awhile before popping out at a nice viewpoint looking south. That’s Cowhorn Mountain on the left and Sawtooth Mountain on the right, with Summit Lake below. As you can see, wildfire smoke made for some very hazy views.

The trail traverses a feature called Diamond Rockpile. Snow on the slopes here has created bends in the tree trunks.

The trail takes a nosedive down from the rockpile. At the bottom, a short side trail leads to Marie Lake, a great swimming lake for all ages since it’s shallow at the near end (for kids), then gets deeper further out.

A boot path works its way around the lakeshore and if you go far enough down you can see part of Diamond Peak above the trees. Looks VERY different from this angle than it did the day before from near Divide Lake!

I sat by the lake for awhile. The mosquitoes had been present off and on but a nice breeze kept them mostly away.

I saw a dipper bird. Love these guys!

After Marie Lake I went to checkout Rockpile Lake, which is a little ways off the main trail and not hard to find. Crossing a meadow to get there I turned and saw Diamond Peak behind me.

Like Marie Lake, Rockpile Lake is a deep lake great for swimming. LOTS of places to camp here. I didn’t see anyone camped but it looks like it gets heavy use.

I lingered for awhile enjoying the pleasant afternoon, then headed back. With some time to kill still before dinner, I did some exploring, driving over to Timpanagos Lake. Came across this very old and weathered sign on Road 2160.

TimpanagosLlake is quiet and peaceful, and when I was there, miraculously bug-free. This is the source of the Middle Fork Willamette River. It was kind of crazy to sit there at this peaceful mountain lake and imagine its waters eventually passing through Portland.

I also stopped by Opal Lake, which is just off the road. A small wildfire burned here in August last year. I looked it up online later and discovered that it was burning exactly one year prior to my visit. Weird!

These two trees somehow managed to survive, despite being surrounded by burnt trees all around.

On the way back to the campground I stopped to see Indigo Springs, which rushes out of the ground as a full-fledged creek. No tiny trickling spring here!

By the way, I camped at Sacandaga Campground, which is right next to Rigdon Meadows.

The old route of the Oregon Central Military Wagon Road goes right through here (it is now Road 276).

According to Oregon Geographic Names, a man named Steve Rigdon maintained a post here 1871-1896 and kept careful records of westbound emigrants and eastbound travelers on the wagon road. There used to be a sign here explaining the history, but it’s gone now. Here’s a picture of the old sign:

Later, this was the site of the Rigdon Guard Station.

The only remains are a foundation, perhaps from a garage or barn or some other outbuilding:

I didn’t do any hiking Sunday, but headed up to the Warner Mountain lookout to look around.

The smoke had gotten way worse. Here’s the smoky view of Diamond Peak.

So that was my fun weekend exploring the Middle Fork area and Diamond Peak Wilderness. One thing I have to comment on is how AMAZING the road signage is down there. Just about every junction, major or minor, is clearly signed. Most of the creek crossings have signs, and major junctions have signs with distances to the next major landmarks. I’ve never seen anything like it in a national forest before!

Jefferson Park

Snow: patchy in Jefferson Park, more prevalent up to Park Ridge
Mosquitoes: awful
Flowers: just getting started

Jefferson Park is one of my favorite places on earth and for a variety of reasons I haven’t been there since 2011. So with the beautiful forecast Greg and I headed there this weekend. This is the first time we’ve gone there in July and it will be the last. Best to wait until the bugs are gone.

We got a later start than we planned on Saturday morning and didn’t get to the Whitewater trailhead until 11:20. We counted 43 cars!

We hiked past quite a lot of bloomed-out beargrass. Looks like it was a good year for it here….about three weeks ago.

Loved the up-close view of the mountain as we hiked.

Whitewater Creek was a welcome and refreshing site on this hot afternoon.

About a mile before Jefferson Park we ran into a wilderness ranger, an experience so rare that I’m not even sure this has ever happened for me before. He reminded us to camp in designated sites only (marked by posts) and that no campfires were allowed. He had been up about two weeks before and dismantled 15-20 fire rings around Scout Lake alone. He said that one time he had encountered two different groups camped in the rain who had built a fire to stay warm, but in the process of doing so just got even more cold and wet, and of course the fire didn’t burn very well. Good grief, people.

We got to Jefferson Park about 3:30 and started looking for a campsite, accompanied by thousands of mosquitoes. We were worried about finding a site, after seeing all those cars at the trailhead. Fortunately we grabbed a spot at the southwest tip of Scout Lake. We quickly discovered why no one was camped there: it was a large site but almost none of it was flat!

I went on a quick jaunt along the shore of Scout Lake to see if there were any better campsites, but there weren’t. Nice view though!

Saw plenty of people not camped in designated sites, including two tents right by the lake shore. We didn’t see those tents later, so I’m assuming the ranger asked them to move.

Rather than tromp around to the other lakes with our heavy packs we kept our sloping site and squeezed our tent into a tiny piece of flattish ground amongst the trees. Our original plan had been to grab a site and then head up to Park Ridge. But due to our late start it was now after 4:00, plus Greg’s foot was bothering him. He would not be deterred, though, so we headed up.

Jefferson Park is still dotted with snow patches, some of which you have to cross. The melting snow has converted the trail into a long puddle in some spots.

The wildflowers are JUST getting started. We saw some paintbrush and heather in bloom, but no lupine. Usually the bugs and the flowers occur at the same time, so the fact that we had to suffer the mosquitoes without the benefit of the flowers felt like a gip!

Up we climbed, looking back occasionally to see the mountain.

My favorite little lupine patch in September 2011:

Roughly the same spot this weekend:

Greg hiking across one of the many huge snowfields we encountered:

Greg took this shot of me climbing up and over a snowfield:

Greg’s foot was really slowing him down. I’m no speedy hiker myself, especially going uphill in the heat. But to my frustration I couldn’t slow my pace enough to match his because the mosquitoes would swarm me if I did. So I kept going to the top. The view north to Olallie Butte and Mt. Hood:

And of course the jaw-dropping view of Mt. Jefferson:

I tried to wait for Greg but the mosquitoes were even worse up on the ridge than down at the lake. After five minutes I had to get moving to get away from the little buggers. On the way down I passed Greg making his slow way up. He was determined to keep going so I kept heading down, going as slowly as possible so he’d eventually catch up. Descending that trail is pretty amazing since Mt. Jefferson is in your face for so much of the way.

Greg finally caught up to me near Russell Lake. We passed a tarn with a fabulous reflection of Mt. Jefferson so of course we stopped and whipped out the cameras.

Home sweet home. It was past 8:30 and I was HUNGRY!

Greg fired up the JetBoil. Love that thing!

We sat on our rock above the lake and gobbled down dinner, then sat for awhile and enjoyed the view. The mosquitoes finally quit bothering us and the temperature didn’t take a nosedive, so it was REALLY nice sitting there sipping wine and nibbling chocolate and watching the light slowly fade.

And then the stars came out. WOW.

After all the hiking we were exhausted and we both slept soundly. Morning was beautiful, warm, and windy, which mostly kept the bugs away.

Greg took this shot of me enjoying the beautiful morning from the comfort of my new Alite Monarch Butterfly Chair:

A high layer of clouds started rolling in as we hiked out, so we were glad for our good timing.

We stopped in Mill City on the way home where we almost (but not quite) devoured an entire large pizza.

So glad to get back up to Jefferson Park after three years away. Despite the mosquitoes (oh, how I itch today!) the scenery was worth the trip!

Tidbits Mountain

For my final hike of the 4th of July weekend I headed up to Tidbits Mountain. It’s a short hike, but with the hot weather I was fine with that, and in any case I had a three hour drive back to Portland.

There were wildflowers blooming along the trail, including beargrass and rhododendron:

Just before reaching the summit I spotted a whole bunch of beargrass below the trail:

A view of the summit from the trail:

The trail takes you to the base of that rocky knob that is the summit. There are still remnants of the ladder from the lookout days.

The small rocky summit and the foundation remnants from the old lookout:

Looking down the rock face I just climbed up:

By the way, here’s a 1927 photo of the lookout. It’s kind of amazing some of the tiny summits that had lookouts perched on them in the old days!

Views all around on this gorgeous day, although the numerous clearcuts were jarring after the pristine view from Olallie Mountain the day before. 🙁 Mary’s Peak in the Coast Range (it’s amazing how you can see that mountain from so many different places!):

Diamond Peak:

Mount Bachelor (small snowy bump on the left):

The Three Sisters:

Mt. Washington, and at center Carpenter Mountain, where I was on Friday:

Mt. Jefferson and Three Fingered Jack:

Here is what the view looked like in 1934:

It was so pleasant up there that I just hung out for awhile. A few butterflies kept me company.

At one point I was standing there admiring the view and I heard this humming sound. At first I thought it was the distant sound of ATVs, but then I realized it was a hummingbird. I looked around and spotted it just below the summit. Miraculously I got a halfway decent picture. Cool!

I had a lot of fun getting up to some high points in this neck of the woods last weekend and feeling VERY lucky for such amazing weather the whole time. Three clear warm days! In Oregon! On the 4th of July weekend! As I joked on facebook Sunday evening, “Flying pigs will be seen at any moment….” 😀

Big Sur Trip, Part 2

After backpacking to Sykes Hot Springs my sis and I spent several days exploring the Big Sur area.


We were pretty tired and sore from backpacking so we decided to take it easy on Friday. As it turned out we didn’t have much choice about taking it easy because it started pouring down rain Thursday night. It rained so hard that mud was splattered up the sides of the tent.

Fortunately by the time we woke up the rain had mostly abated, but we still ate our breakfast under two sheltering redwoods at our campsite to avoid the mist/drizzle.

Taking advantage of the break from the downpour we headed down to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, about 30 minutes south. We headed to the viewpoint for McWay Falls, a nice waterfall that drops right down onto a beach.

Until 1983 that waterfall dropped straight into the ocean. But an ENORMOUS landslide that year sent so much debris into the ocean that much of it washed up in this cove and created a beach.

Even now, more than 30 years later, you can still see the scar of that landslide just north of the waterfall viewpoint.

Just a short drive north of there is the trail down to Partington Cove, a nice little beach. We sat there for awhile watching the waves.

A side trail crosses Partington Creek and leads to Partington Landing via a tunnel. The hand-split redwood tunnel was built in the 1870s by John Partington, who harvested the bark of the tanbark oak, transported it down the canyon and through the tunnel by mule, then loaded it onto ships in the cove. Legend says that the cove was also used to smuggle booze during Prohibition.

It started raining pretty hard on our hike back up to the road. It wasn’t far to go, but we tried to wait out the rain under some trees. The rain didn’t let up, so we hurried up the trail as fast as we could. We still got soaked.

Rather than return to our soggy campsite we hung out with our expensive tea at the Big Sur Lodge near our campground. For months I’ve been hearing about the drought in California and here it was pouring down rain as if we were back in the Pacific Northwest.

Eventually we returned to our campsite and our sad soggy chairs.

In the late afternoon the rain let up for awhile and we wandered around the park exploring.

Although there was more rain the forecast the skies seemed to be clearing a big around sunset so we headed down to Pfeiffer Beach to check it out. We arrived just in the nick of time before the sun disappeared behind a whole bunch of clouds.

More rain headed our way.

That night it poured again. This is the sound of a tent getting muddy and filthy:


On Saturday we headed up to Andrew Molera State Park. Right away we had to cross the Big Sur River, which has no bridge, but is easy to wade. (Our guidebook said there was a seasonal bridge here, but we saw no evidence to support that. Someone we talked to at the crossing said he had been there several times before and had never seen a bridge. Just one of many errors we found in that book, which was supposedly updated last year.)

The first part of the hike took us through Creamery Meadow, a former pasture for cows that produced Monterey Jack cheese.

Then our route turned south to follow the Bluff Trail above the ocean. The beach at upper right is where the Big Sur River flows into the ocean.

The ocean views were really lovely.

The landscape is so different from the beaches at home. There are almost no trees here.

After 2.8 miles we took a short side trail down to a little secluded beach. An astonishing amount of driftwood has piled up here!

We sat on this oh-so-lovely beach for awhile, enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, crashing waves, and passing pelicans. (The reddish purple areas on the sand, by the way, are from a rare mineral called almandite.)

We continued on our way, starting to climb up higher. We could see down on our little beach.

The higher we hike, the better the views became (and the windier it got!)

A VERY windy spot on the way up.

The sideways hair doesn’t even begin to convey how windy it was.

We were now at the southern border of the park and just beyond was private property were multi-million dollar homes sit high above the ocean.

Now our route turned north again on the Ridge Trail, which is an old fire road. Up here there were some trees.

Then the landscape opened up again and we were treated to views of the mountains due east of us.

Way down in that canyon is the Big Sur River.

To the west was the BLUE BLUE ocean. So beautiful!

Once we were down off the bluffs we took a side trip to Molera Beach. It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, but the placid Big Sur River is flowing into the ocean at far right.

Back through Creamery Meadow towards the car.

We took a moment to check out the walk-in campground here. It’s pretty nice, if you don’t mind the 0.3mi walk from your car.

We chowed down on dinner….

….then rushed down to Pfeiffer Beach for the sunset. Lovely!


On our last full day in Big Sur we returned to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to hike the Ewoldsen Trail. The first part of the hike follows McWay Creek (which splashes down onto the beach in a waterfall just a short ways downstream). It’s absolutely lovely here with the redwood canopy above!

When we got to the loop junction we were surprised to discover that half of the loop was closed. There had been no signs about this at the trailhead.

So we crossed a new-looking footbridge and did the other half of the loop.

Looking out onto that stunningly blue ocean.

We hiked right over the top of the 1983 landslide that we had seen two days earlier from a different vantage point.

The day wasn’t as clear as Saturday and we found ourselves hiking up into the clouds.

We passed through open areas and forests of oak and redwood.


Of course the park ranger had to count the tree rings. About 300 of them!

Whatever California State Parks is spending day use fee money on, it sure ain’t trail maintenance. I lost count of how many trees we climbed over/under.

The acorn woodpeckers have been busy stashing acorns in the trees here.

The other end of the trail closure.

Up on top at the end of the trail was a lovely viewpoint that we had all to ourselves. Unfortunately we were totally in the clouds at this point and there wasn’t much of a view.

BUT, that was okay because we got to see a condor! California condors are a threatened species due to habitat loss, lead poisoning (from eating animals that have been shot with lead bullets), and poaching. It doesn’t help that they only lay one egg a year. Various organizations raise condors in captivity and then release them. Big Sur is one of three release sites in California and condors are spotted frequently on this trail. It was exciting that we actually got to see one! (In November 2012 Oregon Field Guide did a segment on condors, which I highly recommend.

We hiked back down and started back towards the campground. But since the campground is in a dark forested canyon and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine a big longer, we stopped at Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe, got lemonade and chips, and enjoyed the view.


Time to start driving home today, but before we did we stopped at Point Lobos State Reserve, just south of Carmel.

Sea lions like to hang out on the rocks offshore. We could hear their barking loud and clear, even over the crashing waves.

In one of the little coves we were treated to a view of two sets of harbor seal pup and parents bobbing in the waves!

There were park docents with tripod-mounted scopes and one of them was focused on some sea otters floating in the kelp beds offshore. It was the first time I had ever seen an otter in the wild. I couldn’t photograph, though the scope, obviously, but trust me when I say that it was very cool.

We checked out the cypress grove.

And got a nice view of Monterey Bay.

Then it was time to head home. I’m glad we visited this gorgeous part of California, and we had a great time!

Little Badger Creek

Yesterday Greg and I drove around to the east side of the mountains for some sun and wildflowers. We hiked the Little Badger Creek trail, which turned out to be a very pleasant hike.

Greg remembered his boots, but not his socks, so he hiked in his Tevas. Good thing this wasn’t a steep or rocky hike!

The forest is quite nice here and the undergrowth is still lush and green.

Funny little mushrooms.

Fairy slippers!

The trail goes right along the creek in spots, and what a delightful creek it is! I wished I had brought my tripod for some slow shutter creek shots.

At one point we were visited by a hummingbird who kept flitting about. Man those little guys move fast! I managed to get two halfway decent shots. These were zoomed in all the way on my camera, then cropped further on the computer.

Here is the shot Greg got; his lens zooms twice as far as mine.

More views of this lovely creek. This is the kind of creek that I could sit by and just go zen for a long time.

We encountered a fair amount of blowdown. This was one of the more tricky ones to get over. I don’t think this trail seems much use or maintenance. (And we only saw one other couple the entire hike, a rare thing in the Mt. Hood Forest.)

At one point the trail used to stay along the creek the whole way, which it crossed a bunch of times (topo maps still reflect this). But around the two-mile mark it’s been re-routed up the hill. The trail climbs up through the trees and passes through several meadowy areas.

We got glimpses of the surrounding hills, including a burn area. Anyone know what fire that was and when it happened?

The balsamroot and lupine were definitely past their peak, but there weren’t totally bedraggled yet. Things bloomed early this year.

We saw other wildflowers too, including silvercrown, currant, and some purple flower I don’t know.

This stretch was really pretty.

The trail descended back down to creek level and the old miner’s cabin. The cabin was built in the 1920s by Tom Kinzel, a prospector and trapper. Here is what the Kinzel cabin looked like in the 1970s:

Today it is just a jumble of logs.

We sat by the creek for awhile, eating snacks and enjoying the surroundings. Before we headed back we went down the trail a short ways to check out the old mining tunnel. Looks creepy and unstable so we didn’t go in.

Headed back, with a little bit of a view of dry Central Oregon.

Great hike for a partly cloudy day where views up higher would have been blocked. The only downside to this trail is that it’s a pretty long haul to the trailhead from Portland. In the spring, though, it’s actually a very pretty drive because the fields between The Dalles and Dufur are still very green and beautiful.

Big Sur Trip, Part 1

My sis and I recently took a 10-day trip down to Big Sur, a very scenic stretch of coastline south of Monterey, CA. We left town on April 20 after Easter dinner and drove as far as Ashland, then drove the rest of the way to Monterey on Monday. After an unexpected detour to Modesto Subaru because the Check Engine light came on, we set up camp at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Monterey Monday evening.

Monterey campsite

On Tuesday we visited the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium. When I visited a year and a half ago the otter exhibit was closed for renovations, so I was delighted to see the otters this time!

Sea otter

The jellyfish are utterly mesmerizing.

Jelly fish

Jelly fish

After visiting Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf we headed south on Highway 1. We stopped at one of the many pullouts to check out the VERY windy view north along the coastline. That’s Bixby Bridge in the distance.

Bixby Bridge

We set up camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which has a huge campground along the Big Sur River.


On Wednesday morning we broke came and prepared for our backpacking excursion into the Ventana Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. A little bit of history: The Los Padres National Forest gets its name from the Catholic priests who proselytized in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s one of those forests that comprises two unconnected areas. There is the smaller northern section in Big Sur and then the much larger section down by Santa Barbara. Our destination was Sykes Camp in the 234,000-acre Ventana Wilderness, which was established in 1969. Ventana is Spanish for “window” which refers to a unique notch on a ridge near Ventana Double Cone. Legend says that an arch once existed over the top of the notch creating a true window, but geologists have found no evidence to support that. (You can see a picture on the Wikipedia page.)

We set out from Big Sur Station along Highway 1 at 10:30am under sunny skies.

For the first few miles we could see across the river canyon to Manuel Peak and the trail that climbs it.

The Pine Ridge Trail does a lot of climbing in the first few miles. Along the whole length it continually passes in and out of different little zones, everything from cool redwood groves to open chaparral with sweeping views.

We saw lots and lots of lizards.

View into the Ventana Wilderness:

After an hour and 45 minutes and 2.3 miles we reached the wilderness boundary.

We saw and heard many acorn woodpeckers and saw their “granaries” in the trees. From Wikipedia: “The woodpeckers create granaries or “acorn trees” by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles, and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird’s time.” Fascinating!

At 2pm after hiking 5.3 miles we reached Terrace Creek Camp, an absolutely lovely spot with lots of big redwoods and a delightful gurgling creek (the first water we had seen thus far). It was so interesting to me to see these lush green forest groves (very reminiscent of what I see when I hike in the Cascades), and then to be hiking through drier open areas just minutes later.

After a long rest here we donned our packs and kept moving.

After a lot more up and down (this trail is the epitome of a roller coaster trail), we descended almost (but not quite) all the way to the Big Sur River where Barlow Flat Camp is located at the 6.7 mile mark. Then the trail climbed up, up, up out of the river canyon, topping out at 8.2 miles before descending all the way back down to the river and Sykes Camp. Sheesh, what were the trail surveyors thinking?

The last two miles downhill to Sykes Camp were tough. I was hurting by this point, being a little out of shape this early in the hiking season and feeling worn out from all the up and down we had done. To top it off there were many stretches of overgrown trail here. I cringed as I passed through these vegetation tunnels, thinking that I would be crawling with ticks by the time I finally got to camp (fortunately that proved not to be true; no ticks whatsoever).

Finally at 5:30pm we reached Sykes Camp. One last hurdle: cross the river. Fortunately we were able to rock-hop across.

We had deliberately timed our visit here to be midweek when we would encounter the least amount of people. Everything we read said that this place was super popular, with as many as 200 people camped there on busy weekends! 😯 There were a few other tents there but we easily found a nice spot. Here’s a photo from the next morning:

After we put up the tent we quickly set about making dinner. We were HUNGRY!

After dinner we set out to find the hot springs. Unfortunately they are a half-mile hike away, downriver. We knew we had to cross the river several times so I wore my Crocs. The “trail” to the springs turned out to be a half-hour obstacle course of fallen trees, rocks, huge boulders, and river crossings, made all the more difficult by my flimsy footwear and the need to avoid the ubiquitous poison oak. Finally we started smelling sulfur. We made it! In the picture below you can see a teeny-tiny pool (no adult could submerge in that) and up ahead a rock-lined pool in the river, which was only lukewarm.

Above that river pool is a pool with much warmer water, but that one was full so we settled in at the upper pool, which we had all to ourselves for the 45 minutes we stayed. Here is a dark and grainy picture of that pool, which is about six or seven feet wide.

I didn’t get a picture of the lower pool because there were people, but there is a picture on this website.

The hot water felt good after the long hard hike, and we both could have stayed longer. But because of the three river crossings and the difficult trail back to camp we wanted to get that out of the way before it was completely dark. Even with our headlamps the way back was challenging since it was well past dusk.

In the morning before hiking out Deb wanted to go back to the hot springs. With a long hard 10-mile hike out that day, I wasn’t up for the hour round-trip hike to the hot springs and back. So while she was soaking I filtered water near a lovely deep green swimming hole…

Enjoyed watching a newt…

And relaxed by the river, enjoying the serene and idyllic setting.

When Deb got back we dawdled a bit, but eventually had to pack up and head out. This is looking down the canyon of the Big Sur River on our hike out.

One big bonus on this hike is that we saw all sorts of wildflowers, including LOTS of paintbrush and iris:

Another thing we saw a whole bunch of: poison oak. I saw more poison oak on this trip than I’ve seen in all my life combined up to this point. It was EVERYWHERE. After a few days it became evident that neither of us seemed to come in contact with it, but we felt like absolutely everything we brought with us on the trek must be contaminated (probably not true, but after you look at millions of poison oak leaves over two days you just feel like it must have touched all your stuff at some point). Despite the warnings about the proliferation of ticks, we never saw a single one.

This hike ended up being a lot harder than I expected, and the constant up-and-down was tiring. Here is the elevation profile from the sign at the trailhead.

The last mile of trail before the car was flat and easy but I was so sore and tired that I wasn’t hiking, I was shuffling. I’m sure I looked rather pitiful. If I had to do it over again I would schedule a layover day to enjoy the hot springs, hang out by the river, and just laze around enjoying the beautiful setting. Hiking 20 miles in about 36 hours was pretty tough this early in the season when I’m not in peak physical condition. That said, I’m glad we went and saw this lovely place!

Devil’s Rest

Despite a rainy forecast we decided to head out to the Columbia River Gorge on Saturday and do a hike. We hiked up to Devil’s Rest, a high point with no views. But the lack of views on such a cloudy day was no problem, and the exercise was much-needed.

After all the rain, Fairy Falls was really gushing:
Fairy Falls

It felt great to be back in the forest again:
Green forest

Recent windy weather has resulted in the trail becoming covered with little branches and debris:
Covered trail

There’s a viewpoint a little before the summit, but there wasn’t much to see on this cloudy day:
Peeking through clouds

Cloudy view

The summit is just a pile of boulders in the forest:
Boulder pile

For some reason there a garden gnomes up here:

The hike up was dry, but the hike down was rainy and we got soaked. Felt good to take a hot shower when I got home!


Date of visit: May 27, 2012
Population: 6,906 (2010 Census)

Oregon Women won the right to vote in 1912. In 1916 in Umatilla they exercised that right to elect some of their own into city government. Citizens were dissatisfied with the way the all-male city council was running things (or rather, not running things). So on December 5 they voted seven women into power: four city council members, a recorder, a treasurer, and a major. Laura Starcher was elected mayor, defeating her incumbent husband, E.E. Starcher. In her victory speech she said “We believe the women can do many things and effect many reforms in this town that the men did not dare to do.” The press called it a “petticoat coup.”

The Umatilla government continued to be female-dominated until 1921. The women felt that they had accomplished what they wanted done and bowed out that year. No other women stepped up to replace them and the government returned to being all-male.

Welcome to Umatilla

McNary Dam on the Columbia River

City Hall & Library
City Hall and Library

Divine Dining
Divine Dining

Java Junkies
Java Junkies

Giant cowboy
Giant cowboy

Umatilla Museum
Umatilla Museum

Map of Umatilla

Oregon Towns Project


Date of visit: May 27, 2012
Population: 16,745 (2010 Census)

Watermelons are famous in Hermiston even though they are not the biggest crop in this area. Back in the 1960s the Hermiston mayor, Frank Harkenrider, was looking for a way to promote his town. Potatoes and alfalfa weren’t very interesting, but watermelons were. So he decided to market Hermiston as a place that grew quality watermelons and even started delivering Hermiston watermelons to the mayor of Portland. Eventually the melons started becoming so popular around the Pacific Northwest that the name Hermiston became synonymous with watermelons. Umatilla County produces 45,000 tons of watermelons annually. Well-drained sandy soils, long growing season, and plenty of sunshine make for good growing conditions. High daytime temperatures and cool nighttime temperatures make for a sweeter melon as well.

Welcome to Hermiston

Hermiston Watermelons
Advertising the watermelons

Hermiston Main Street
Quiet Main Street on a Sunday morning

Clock in McKenzie Park

Peaceful evening
Riverfront Park

Roemark’s Men’s Wear

Maxwell Siding
Old trail cars at Maxwell Siding

Florist shop in historic building

Hermiston Library
Hermiston Public Library

Map of Hermiston

Oregon Towns Project