Echo Basin

July 26, 2008

The Echo Basin trail seems to be a little-known and seldom-visited hike near Santiam Pass. It’s not very long but passes through a beautiful wildflower meadow. Greg and I did this after the Cone Peak hike earlier in the day. Here’s his wildflower report.

The hike starts out climbing up an old overgrown logging road that is so steep that it seems hard to believe a logging truck – or any other vehicle, for that matter – could have handled the grade. Thick clumps of alder grow alongside the road/path, growing in weird arcs as seen below. Why they don’t just grow straight up is beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with snow? (We saw several patches of snow alongside the trail on this hot July day. Seemed incredible that any could still be lingering!)

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The trail reaches a junction where you can either go right or left to complete the loop. We went right, climbing still more up through the trees. There is old growth here and the forest is very pretty.

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The trail then passes through a big field chock full of False Hellebore. There was A LOT of it.

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Finally we reached beautiful Echo Basin. What a lovely spot! It was full of wildflowers with several gurgling streams flowing down from above. It was a pretty and peaceful spot. Some of the wildflowers we saw:

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Echo Basin does indeed have an echo, although not a very significant one. We had fun testing it out. The view below shows part of the basin. I didn’t have a wide enough lens to capture it all.

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Hiking back down on the other side of the loop, I got a shot of Greg in front of one of the huge Alaska Cedars for perspective. This area is unique because Alaska Cedars don’t usually grow this far south.

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And back at the junction we made the knee-aching descent back down the old road to the car. The hike is only about 2.5 miles in total, with an elevation gain of about 600 feet. Very much worth it for the cool old growth and beautiful wildflowers.

Cone Peak

July 26, 2008

Greg and I went camping at Marion Forks Campground a few weeks ago and did lots of great hikes. The first one we did was Cone Peak, which is right next to Iron Mountain. We didn’t do the whole trail, just up to Cone Peak and back. The wildflowers were wonderful! (Greg wrote up a wildflower report on his website.)

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A wide shot of the flowered slopes of Cone Peak

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Very cool cloud formation

Some of the wildflowers we saw up there…

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And finally, looking west at Iron Mountain and the view beyond

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Great little hike with beautiful flowers! As with everything this year, the blooms were several weeks behind. The flowers were at peak when we were there on July 26, but last year I hiked there on the 4th of July and they were at peak, which I think is more normal.

After this hike, we headed to nearby Echo Basin for more wildflower action!

Fall color at Fall Creek

If you’re looking for someplace to see beautiful fall color this weekend, the Fall Creek area would not be a bad choice. Greg and I headed out here on Wednesday to take pictures of the foliage, and we were not disappointed. (Incidentally, this trail was mentioned as part of the blurb for the Willamette National Forest in the Fall’s Best Forests picks on the GORP web site.)

It’s about a half hour east of Eugene. Take exit 188A and take the highway east for 14 miles, turning left at the covered bridge. Follow Jasper-Lowell Road 2.8 miles through Lowell, following the signs for Fall Creek. At a four-way stop by another covered bridge, turn right on Big Fall Creek Road, going about 10 miles. You’ll see the trailhead on the right just before a bridge at the Dolly Varden Campground.

The fall color here here is really gorgeous, with some vine maples and lots of big leaf maples overhanging the creek.

Maples at Fall Creek

Many maples

Pretty early on, you cross a bridge over a really cool side creek that slides into Fall Creek over an area of smooth rock. You can’t see it very well from this side of the creek, but you could probably get a good view of it from the other side.

Slide right in

The road parallels the creek over there on the opposite bank. We could hear the occasional car or log truck, but traffic was pretty light. There were some spots we could see on that side that would have definite good access points for getting good views of the creek. The trick, of course, would be to find them once you’re driving along over there!

The trail follows the creek upstream for many miles, but we were pressed for time and only went 2.5 miles up, then turned around and came back. I think we stopped just short of Timber Creek. This was the last spot we took pictures from, a big mossy rock peninsula where the creek curved.

Leaves, moss, and a creek

Even though we only went a few miles, we saw LOTS of beautiful fall foliage and got lots of good pictures. (See all of them here.) It was a chilly day (we read 45 degrees in the car on the way in), and it drizzled off and on, but we had a few short sun breaks too. Driving back up Interstate 5, we drove through the blackest of black rain storms as well as sunshine and blue sky. WEIRD weather day. But this one is worth braving the weather for!

Spectacular colors at Marion Lake

I have a very strange work schedule, so I occasionally have weekdays off, which was the case this past Thursday. So I headed down to the Mt. Jefferson area to go for a hike. I originally intended to go up to Pamelia Lake, having never been there, but when I stopped in at the Detroit Ranger Station for the required permit, I was told the trail was closed for a few days. Apparently they were doing some blasting where the PCT crosses Milk Creek, to try and make the crossing better after it was ripped to shreds in the November storms. So I decided to do Marion Lake instead.

I was surprised to see half a dozen cars at the trailhead. On a weekday towards the end of the September, I thought I’d be the only one up there. I never saw the occupants of most of those cars, though I did pass a group of four men who were taking a break at Lake Ann, who had started on the trail about ten minutes before me. I didn’t see them again the rest of the day.

When the trail forks after Lake Ann, I took the right fork and then tried to find Marion Falls, without success. So I continued on to Marion Lake, where I ate lunch along the shore.

Marion Lake

There was a little fall chill in the air, and the day was a little overcast. The weird thing is that you can tell this lake is popular and overrun with people in the summer because of all the little trails down to the shore and the huge trampled camping areas. But there were no campers there that day, and no other hikers. It was a little like being in a ghost town.

While eating lunch, I could see the huge rock slide to my right, across which the Blue Lake Trail crosses. There were a lot of colorful vine maple there, so I headed up that trail just as far as the rock slide so I could revel in the gorgeous beauty of all that fiery red color. It was fantastic! I absolutely love vine maple in the fall!

Fiery red

View from the rock slide

There are a lot of patches in the forest where vine maple grows here, but only the exposed ones on the rock slides are in color right now. There are several rock slide areas that the trail passes, or that you can see from a distance, and ALL rock slide vine maple is in color now. It’s pretty spectacular.

Back down on the Marion Lake trail, I meandered down to the peninsula, where I had a pretty nice view of Three Fingered Jack, silhouetted in the afternoon sun.

Three Fingered Jack

And if you cross the peninsula to the other side, you can see the very top of Mt. Jefferson.

A little bit of Jeff

From here, I could also see two horseback riders crossing a rock slide on the Minto Pass Trail, right before it connects up with the Marion Lake Trail. I came across the hoofprints on the trail a short while later, but never did see them up-close.

Horses on the rocks

See all my photos from this hike here.

This is a pleasant and easy hike. I am by no means a fast hiker, but it only took me four hours to do the six miles, including my detour to find the waterfall, my lunch break, and my half hour vine maple fix. Makes for a great autumn hike!

Iron Mountain

On the 4th of July I did the hike up to Iron Mountain on a hot beautiful day.

There were lots of columbine along the trail:

Columbine

The trail traverses the lower slope of Cone Peak (which is right next door to Iron Mountain):

Cone Peak

The trail crossed this huge rocky area where a billion wildflowers were blooming. All the hikers going through here were stopping to take pictures. It was a pretty impressive display:

Attention-getters

I encountered some ladies who were tallying all the wildflowers they saw on the hike. They said they were up to 50!

Hardy flowers

Paintbrush extravaganza

Walking through wildflowers

Looking west to Iron Mountain:

Iron Mountain

After a hike through the forest and a steep climb, I reached the summit of Iron Mountain. There’s an old fire lookout up here. Apparently the lookout that preceded this one blew off the mountain in a 1976 windstorm. Yikes! It was a hot day and most hikers were huddled in the shade of the building:

Fire lookout

Looking northwest:

Forested hills

Mt. Hood peeking into view to the north. Three Pyramids on the right:

Distant Mt. Hood

Mt. Jefferson:

Hey, Jeff!

The Three Sisters:

Three Sisters

View to the south and Diamond Peak:

Looking south

Looking down on the highway:

Rock weirdness

After leaving the summit I looped back to my car at Tombstone Pass. Great hike!

Snowshoeing hell

Several weeks ago, Deb and I marked yesterday on our calendars for a day of snowshoeing. We really haven’t gotten out much this winter, constantly thwarted by weather and illness. I wish we had been thwarted again yesterday, because it turned out to be the snowshoeing day from hell.

It was just an off day right from the beginning. When I showed up at 8:30 to get Deb, she was still in bed! She had set her alarm for 7 pm instead of 7 am. So we got a later start than we had planned. And then once we got to the Santiam Pass area, we somehow managed to drive right by the sno park, and drove about five miles past it before we realized our mistake. So after all that, we didn’t get on the trail until 1:00.

The Maxwell Sno Park is a maze of interconnected trails, forest service roads, and logging roads. So you can customize your route pretty easily. We did the Maxwell Loop, which started out on a road, then cut cross country on a trail, then we were back on a road again. But the snow sucked the entire way. The snow had no integrity. It was this soft stuff (but not powdery) that didn’t support our weight at all, even with the snowshoes. So with every step, we sank several inches (sometimes more) into the snow. But the degree of sinking wasn’t consistent, so we were constantly off-balance. And the constant sinking into the snow was jarring to the whole body, especially when the sinking happened after you’d already put your full weight down on the snowshoe.

And our snowshoes didn’t sink straight down all the time; sometimes they sank at an angle, which was a killer on our legs and ankles. My snowshoe straps kept coming undone too. I had my poles to help keep me upright (it really was quite difficult to maintain balance in that snow), but because I was relying on them so heavily, my hands and wrists hurt (my hands still hurt today, where I was gripping the poles). The person in front had to break trail, so that was really difficult. We kept trading off, and as time passed, the intervals between switching grew shorter and shorter. Deb’s hip flexer was really bothering her. Heck, even MY hip flexer was bothering me! We moved SO slowly. It was agony.

The last mile of the trail back to the sno park paralleled the highway, so we decided to abandon the trail there and go along the highway instead. But it turned out that because of all the snow piled up alongside the shoulder, there was very little room between the snowbank and the rushing cars and trucks. Too dangerous. So we walked on top of the snowbank, which was full of dirty sand that has been piling up there from snowplows all winter. As far as ease of walking, the snow we were on was only slightly better than what we’d been on back on the trail. It still took us an hour to go that last mile along the highway, with cars and semis blasting by us on the wet highway the whole time. In the end, it took us almost 4.5 hours to do 4.8 miles.

It really sucked that for all that effort we didn’t get any views or scenery. We went through several clear-cuts where we probably would have had views, but we were socked in with clouds.

It snowed for a bit before we got started, and then snowed for about the first 15 minutes we were walking. So the trees had a little snow on them for a short while, but the rain soon washed it away. It rained/drizzled pretty much the whole time we were out there, which made the trek even more miserable. We were completely soaked, and everything in my pack got wet. Needless to say, by the time we got back to the parking lot, the car was a sight for sore eyes!

I am REALLY ready for summer hiking! Even the hottest uphill buggy trail days aren’t as bad as the brutal slog through that snow was yesterday! I hurt everywhere today.