Note: Watch for ticks and poison oak if you hike here.
Greg and I headed out to Coyote Wall to do a loop hike there. We hit the trail at 9:15 under chilly overcast skies. If you hike here, please note that dogs must be on-leash:
We saw this group at the beginning of the hike and later on as well. The dog was never on a leash:
We trekked down old Highway 14:
The desert parsley was going gangbusters. We saw lots of it.
At 0.4mi we passed the trail where we would come out later:
Further along at 0.7mi we picked up our trail and started climbing up.
Columbia Desert Parsley:
Despite the clouds we managed to get a view of Mt. Hood:
The river was glassy calm:
There was popcorn flower EVERYWHERE:
First balsamroot sighting of the season!
The sun started to break through a bit as we hiked down:
By this time we were encountering huge numbers of people. And we were witnessing plenty of bad hiker behavior: picked wildflowers left on the trail, off-leash dogs, dog poop bags left behind, and adults, kids, and dogs wandering through the meadows, trampling the wildflowers. It was discouraging, and we were glad to get back to the trailhead. Still, despite all that, it was a great hike. Here are all the wildflowers Greg noted seeing on this loop. 6 miles, 1100′ elevation gain.
What a gorgeous day! Greg was out of town so I did a solo hike at Tracy Hill, which is in the Catherine Creek area in the Columbia River Gorge. My start point was just a short distance east down the road from the main Catherine Creek trailhead.
The trail starts out on an old jeep track. On this crystal clear day I started getting views of Mt. Hood right away:
There were still a few grass widows around:
I also saw plenty of gold stars:
I love the ponderosa pines here:
At 0.8 mile there is a junction where I went straight. The jeep track from the left would bring me back here at the end of the hike. I continued hiking uphill, then the track turned into a trail and emerged into a huge sloping meadow:
As I got higher, the views got better. The snowy bump at center is Lookout Mountain:
And Mt. Hood was glorious!
1.9 miles into the hike I reached the top of the meadow where someone has made a makeshift bench. It’s a great spot to stop and enjoy the views, which is exactly what I did.
I loved the gnarled branches on this old oak tree:
I spotted a lizard in this hole. See him?
How about now?
The trail passes through an oak forest:
And emerges into another meadow with yet another view of Mt. Hood:
I passed an old cattle pond that is fed by a spring:
I wanted to get further up the hill and pick up another old jeep track so I left the trail and cut up through the meadow, although it turns out if I had stayed on the trail a bit further I would have intersected a path that headed uphill. I found said path as I got higher:
The trail connected with another old jeep track:
Which entered a very pleasant forest:
At the three-mile mark I came to a more developed-looking road:
This spot was also the site of some logging:
I made this my turnaround point. Back out in the open meadows I put down my sit pad on the trail and sat down to enjoy the view for awhile:
I had a good view of the Columbia Hills to the east. Great place to see balsamroot in about six weeks!
After soaking up the sunshine for awhile I continued on. The trail descended down into the canyon of Catherine Creek:
A peek at the Columbia River as the trail descends:
I picked up another jeep track:
Which connected me back to the original trail where I returned to my car. It was a 6.5 mile loop with 1,700′ elevation gain. Great hike!
On Saturday we headed to the Lewis River hoping to see some nice fall color. We were WAY too early, though (by 2-3 weeks, I’d guess) and it was still pretty green. It was still a lovely hike, though. Shockingly enough I have never done this trail, despite a decade of hiking around here!
A quick note about access. It seems that guidebooks direct everyone to drive up I5 then head east through Woodland on 503. That’s the way we went, but we came back by heading south on Road 30 then down to Carson. That route is much prettier. Both routes are equally curvy. Bring the dramamine!
We started off at the Lower Falls then headed upstream.
Apparently there’s a landslide past this point, so the trail detours up to the Middle Falls Trailhead. Instead of a clear sign explaining this, the Forest Service has opted for a mess of pink flagging. Ugh.
This is what it looks like at the other end on the lower bridge over Copper Creek:
Copper Creek Falls:
The trail has slumped away near Middle Falls and is quite a mess. I don’t know when this happened, but it doesn’t look recent:
We didn’t go any further than Upper Falls because it was starting to rain. So we turned and headed back for the car. Lovely trail! Can’t believe it took me this long to hike it.
With HOT weather in the Labor Day forecast and no AC at home we wanted to head to the mountains to literally chill out. We thought about backpacking to Wall Lake (west of Olallie Lake) but thought there might be too much smoke, so headed to Indian Heaven instead, even though we knew it would be packed there. When we arrive at the East Crater Trailhead at 11am Saturday morning the car said it was 78 degrees, but it felt hotter than that. On the plus side, there were huckleberries available! We had hoped to find some on our hike, but didn’t expect to be able to pick them from the car. Sweet!
We hit the trail at 11:30, noting that there were no signs about a fire ban at the trailhead. That’s odd. It’s way too dry for campfires. We were glad for the cool shady hike as the temperatures continued to climb:
Sometimes our pace slowed to a tasty crawl as we picked huckleberries:
After 2.5 miles and an hour and 15 minutes we reached the PCT and turned north, passing Junction Lake. The lake was low enough that the outlet was bone dry:
In fact, every single creek crossing was dry:
We had planned to camp at Acker Lake, having read that there was a lovely campsite there. But we couldn’t find the trail down to it and in any case when we saw Bear Lake we decided that was a fine place to camp.
That little peninsula at the east end of the lake has “day use only” and “no camping” signs:
We managed to snag a campsite nearby, though:
Then we went for a swim. Ah, that felt good!
We spent the afternoon sitting in the shade by the lake, eating snacks and reading and staying cool. We saw several dozen backpackers arrive throughout the afternoon. There weren’t nearly enough campsites for all of them, so I don’t know where they ended up going. Some people just set up camp on the lakeshore where there were was plenty of dry land since the lake level was low.
In the late afternoon Greg took a nap while I went exploring. I hiked to trail’s end at Elk Lake, where there seemed to only be a handful of campsites. This lake only didn’t seem as good for swimming due its somewhat inaccessible shoreline.
Back at Bear Lake I read until dinnertime. The sun disappeared behind the tree tops at 6, and we enjoyed a long dusk sitting by the lake eating dinner and drinking wine. It was warm enough that we were sitting there in short sleeves and I was SO glad we were not back home in our sweltering house. Despite all the people that we could see and hear, we were all dispersed enough that it didn’t matter. No one brought along a bluetooth speaker (thank god) and all the noises were just usual camp noises. Several people had campfires, though, which seemed crazy to me. Not only because the forest was SO dry, but because who wants a campfire when it’s 80 degrees out? I just don’t get it. If you need a campfire when you go backpacking, then don’t go during a drought.
Sunday morning our blue skies from the day before were gone (we didn’t know it yet, but the skies were hazy due to the Eagle Creek Fire that started the previous afternoon). We couldn’t smell smoke, though, and the lake was calm and peaceful. It was nice to just sit there enjoying our breakfast, tea, and the quiet morning. One of my favorite aspects of backpacking!
Since we were staying two nights, today we decided to hike over to Lemei Rock and the nice viewpoint above Lake Wapiki.
Along the way we checked out Deer Lake:
And Clear lake:
Now that we were out and about we could see just how bad the smoky haze was. The sunlight was orange.
Along the last stretch to the viewpoint we got a view north to Mt. Rainier, whose summit was obscured by the smoky haze:
We got to the viewpoint above Lake Wapiki. Mt. Adams was visible, but definitely shrouded in smoke:
Smoke and haze:
At this point we had a signal and although I normally try to stay unplugged in the wilderness I thought I’d check the forecast. That’s when I learned about the Eagle Creek Fire that started the previous afternoon and about the 150 hikers who had been trapped overnight and had to hike out to Wahtum Lake in the morning. The whole story was horrifying. And now we knew why it suddenly got so very smoky overnight.
Greg did the crossword while I read on my Kindle, then I decided to pick some huckleberries further along the trail. I turned around to bring some berries back to Greg and saw a huge plume of smoke rising up to the west.
The fire looked to be in the general direction of Bear Lake, so we quickly started hiking the three miles back there. From information we gathered from other hikers we figured out that the fire was near Blue Lake (which turned out to be slightly inaccurate; the fire was at East Crater), that it had just started this morning, and that everyone had to evacuate. Everyone at Bear Lake had already left. My guess is that they got the evacuation order shortly after we left on our day hike. Our afternoon plans for swimming and relaxing lakeside were not to be. As we packed up our site and the temperatures rose, I grumbled about the irresponsible jerk who didn’t properly put out their campfire and started a wildfire (they haven’t proven that’s what happened, but that’s my guess).
A firefighter we encountered told us the East Crater Trail back to our car was closed because the fire was pretty much on top of it. He told us to hike out to Cultus Creek Campground and a shuttle would take us back to our car. So we retraced our steps back up the Indian Heaven Trail, and when we passed Clear Lake we got a good view of the smoke. Holy crap.
At Cultus Creek Campground they had closed the trail:
Other backpackers also evacuated here, but there weren’t as many as I expected. I think most of them had already come out earlier in the day. After 90 minutes at the campground a FS guy admitted our best bet to get back to our car was with a member of the public, so we did just that. A huge thanks to Jack and Sydney, who were headed to Trout Lake and went out of their way to take us to our car. They couldn’t go the last 1.5 mile due to a ditch in the road that their low-clearance car couldn’t cross, so I ran the last stretch with just my keys and phone. I got to the car at 8pm after a long stressful day. So much for a relaxing day in the wilderness. But it could have been worse. We were safe, we were able to retrieve our gear, and our car didn’t burn up.
An hour later when we crossed the Bridge of the Gods, we got our first look at the Eagle Creek Fire and it was devastating. By then the news sites had reported that the fire was started due to teens playing with fireworks and we were shocked how big the fire got in such a short amount of time.
As for the East Crater Fire, it was intially reported to be 1,000 acres but once they got a look at the perimeter they revised that and today it’s listed as 467 acres. Cause is still listed as “under investigation”. I asked the GPNF on Facebook why there was no campfire ban in effect but they didn’t respond.
After doing the Tatoosh Trail the day before, today we did the shorter easier hike to High Rock Lookout. We’d had to pitch camp alongside the road the night before, being unable to find anywhere else to stay (hotel or campground).
Fortunately this rushing stream blocked out the noise of the ocasional passing car:
On the drive to the trailhead we got stuck behind a SLOW Impreza that was crawling along, even on the parts where there weren’t potholes. But we finally arrived and from the car we could see our destination, the tiny-looking fire lookout perched way up on the peak:
We hit the trail and saw a “workers” sign. We later learned it was a trail crew from the Washington Conservation Corps. We saw signs of their earlier work cutting the beargrass back from the trail:
The trail climbs steeply up, up, up through the trees:
It’s a bit rough in spots:
A little ways before reaching the top you get a peek at Mt. Rainier:
The trail comes out at the base of the sloping summit, with the old lookout perched above:
The lookout hasn’t been staffed in awhile and has been heavily vandalized. For some reason people have written all over the windows. The south wall has been shored up with supports:
The view is pretty fabulous. Mt. Rainier to the north:
Mt. Adams to the south:
Mt. St. Helens:
To the east we could see the meadows of Tatoosh Peak we had traversed the day before. It hadn’t occurred to us to look for High Rock when we over there, but we don’t own binoculars so probably couldn’t have seen it anyway:
We could see Mt. Hood way off in the distance too:
We hung out a the summit for awhile soaking up the fabulous views. This is one popular trail, and we saw plenty of people up here. We also saw plenty of bugs. It was breezy at first, but when the winds calmed we were swarmed with flying ants. they didn’t bite, But were very annoying. Also annoying: the target shooters somewhere in the valley below us.
We headed down, passing dozens of people on their way up. While looking for an off-trail geocache on the way down, Greg got this iPhone shot of the lookout and Mt. Rainier:
This is a nice short hike with great views. Glad we got to do it on such a clear day! Two days later on August 2 the entire Pacific Northwest became choked with smoke as shifting winds brought wildfire smoke from British Columbia, creating poor air quality and eliminating all views.
On Saturday Greg and I hiked up the Tatoosh Trail to the site of the old Tatoosh Lookout. I believe this summit is commonly called Tatoosh Peak, although on the topo map it is simply labeled “Tatoosh.” (Also, to confuse things, I believe this ridge is called Tatoosh Ridge, whereas the peaks just north of here are the Tatoosh Range.) From Tatoosh Peak one gets amazing views of Mt. Rainier and other peaks.
We had intended to stay in Packwood on Friday night so we could get an early start in the morning. We made the mistake of using Expedia to book a hotel and the hotel got overbooked. Expedia was not able to find us a room anywhere in the vicinity so we chose instead to stay in Portland and get up at 4am to hit the road at 5am. By the time we hit the trail at 8:50 we had been awake for nearly five hours already.
The first two miles climbs relentlessly uphill through the trees.
Then things started opening up and we started getting views of Dixon Mountain:
And we got a glimpse of the huge meadows we would be traversing soon:
We started passing through nice meadows of wildflowers including beargrass that was WAY past peak. We never would see beargrass that was still blooming on this hike, but the other wildflowers more than made up for it.
As we climbed, we started to see quite a lot of valerian in bloom. We didn’t know it yet, but we would see thousands of this wildflower along the entire trail:
We started leaving the mixed tree/meadow zone and emerged into the big sloping meadow we saw earlier. The wildflower show continued:
At 2.7 miles we reached the junction with the Tatoosh Lakes Trail. It’s 1.4 miles round-trip to go to the lakes and back to the main trail and we hoped to do this on our way down.
Past this junction is when things really started to get jaw-dropping. Behind us Mt. Rainier loomed over the ridge and the further we went, the more of the mountain we could see. We kept turning around to look at it.
At around three miles we passed this nice spot that would make a good campsite (and indeed it looks like people have camped here). We stopped here briefly for a snack but didn’t pause long due to the numerous biting flies. It would be great to backpack up here, but there is no water whatsoever and those first two miles of steep uphill loaded down with enough water for two days would be grueling.
We could see Mt. Adams:
And Mt. St. Helens:
A quarter mile beyond the campsite is a confusing intersection where a user trail on the left ascends an unnamed 6,050′ peak and another user trail on the right goes to a good viewpoint and lunch stop. We went straight to continue on the Tatoosh Trail, which traverses yet another huge meadow:
Notice the huge scar of a landslide on the right:
I can’t find any information about when this landslide happened, but it seems to have been at least a few years ago. The trail across it has not been fixed and it’s a bit of a scramble to get across:
There were a few other sketchy sections where the trail needs some serious maintenance:
Onward we hiked, looking back for the occasional glimpse of Mt. Rainier:
At 4.8 miles we reached the junction. From here the Tatoosh Trail continues south to a trailhead on Road 5290 but we would be doubling back and climbing up to make the last 0.7 mile push to the peak. The junction appears to be unsigned but then we spotted an old weathered sign on a tree:
The last bit of climbing to the summit proved to be incredibly spectacular as the trail followed a ridge bursting with millions of wildflowers. It was incredible!
Looking back, we could see the Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams:
And Mt. Hood way off in the distance:
Last push to the top, which had one lingering snowfield across the trail right at the summit:
5.5 miles of hiking and 3,500′ of elevation gain and we made it!
The old Tatoosh fire lookout is long gone. All that remains are the concrete footings and melted glass:
I found a summit register near one of the footings. It had no log inside so I added a few sheets of paper:
There is a heart-shaped tarn below the summit which I suppose could be a water source if one camped up here, although I’m not sure how one would safely get down there:
Looking back at the summit:
We stayed here for an hour enjoying the view but the biting flies were AWFUL and we had a long hike back down, so we reluctantly departed and began our trek back down through the wildflowers.
I really wanted to do the side trail to Tatoosh Lakes, but we were running very low on water (and hadn’t brought the filter) and we were very very tired. As it was, my feet were really sore the last few miles descending back to the car. Hopefully we can come back someday and see the lakes. On the way down two guys passed us heading back to their car and they were carrying fishing poles. I asked if they had gone to the lakes and they said they had. I asked how the bugs were and they said the bugs were really bad. So I didn’t feel as bad about missing the lakes on this trip.
This is definitely a hard hike. Our GPS stats came out to 11.2 miles with 4,000′ elevation gain (there is uphill in both directions). Plus there is virtually no shade except for that first two miles of trail. But I’ve been wanting to do this one for years and it was even better than I hoped it would be!
Greg and I braved the godawful Road 4109 to access the north trailhead on Silver Star Mountain on July 9. We’re glad we did, but it’s the last time we’ll take our car on that road. More on that at the end of the post.
We did our usual hike: follow the old road up for a mile (the hiking trail that parallels it for a short bit isn’t nearly as scenic) then pick up Ed’s Trail. The flowers were totally glorious:
The views weren’t too shabby:
Ed’s Trail connects back up with the old road, which we followed to the summit:
Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier:
The Goat Rocks and Mt. Adams:
Mt. Jefferson and the Three Sisters:
Smoke from the Dry Creek Fire near Trout Lake:
The hike back down via the old road was spectacular, with lots of wildflowers:
One last view of Mt. Hood before the trail drops down to the trailhead:
Here is a video of the hike:
You’ll see at the very end of that video some footage we took driving back down Road 4109. This road has always been awful, but it’s gotten really bad. High clearance vehicles are required, preferably AWD/4WD for some steep sections where it’s hard to get traction when going so slow. My theory is that the Forest Service deliberately doesn’t maintain this road in order to keep the crowds down and protect the fragile meadows, but I don’t know if that’s true. Next year we’ll start from the Grouse Vista Trailhead on the other side of the mountain. It means a MUCH longer hike to get to the wildflowers, but at least the drive will be easier.
With a beautiful forecast for Sunday I was flipping through my hiking books trying to decide where to go. In Matt Reeder’s new book he has the hike to Red Mountain via Indian Racetrack and I decided to do that. All I have to say is WOW. I can’t believe this hike doesn’t get more attention. The views are fantastic!
Just past the wilderness registration board is the abandoned and unsigned trail to the Basin Lakes area. Matt mentions this in his book, but I didn’t have the time to explore up there today.
Crossing Falls Creek, the outflow from Basin Lakes.
Crazy to think how that creek becomes this (Falls Creek Falls) a few miles downstream!
After that the trail climbs steeply. It’s so steep in this spot that they’ve laid logs down for erosion control.
I saw a whole bunch of mushrooms.
The trail levels off for a bit and then there’s just lots of forest hiking.
Then the trail reaches a meadow with a snowmelt pond.
Red Mountain ahead. Almost there!
Indian Racetrack, where Native Americans used to race their horses.
This is the trail to Red Mountain and thank goodness for that sign or I would not have seen it. Once the trail comes out of the forest there it totally disappears in the meadow.
Back in the forest for the final push up the hill.
The last 0.2mi of trail before it dumps out on the road is very very steep. I was very glad to get onto the well-graded road which shortly brought me to the summit. Oh man the views! An unobstructed 360-degree view!
Looking north out over Indian Heaven Wilderness to Mt. Adams, which had a fresh dusting of snow.
Mt. Rainier also had fresh snow:
Close-up of Indian Heaven:
Looking south to Mt. Hood:
Looking southwest (that forested bump left of center is called The Wart:
Looking west to Mt. St. Helens:
The lookout isn’t used anymore but is in good shape. (You can see from the first picture below how this mountain got its name.)
There isn’t much inside.
It seems that maybe the Red Mountain lookout is in some limbo. A winter storm blew the roof off in 2006 which caused the walls to collapse. Yikes!
Volunteers with the Passport in Time program restored the lookout in 2010 but at that time future plans were uncertain. The website firelookout.com says that it’s slated to become part of the rental program, but I don’t know when that was last updated. A 2011 report from the Forest Fire Lookout Association said that once toilet facilities were installed the lookout could become part of the rental program. There are still no toilet facilities up there and the inside needs a bed, a stovepipe, etc. so who knows what’s going on.
Anyway, I sat on the catwalk of the lookout for over an hour, enjoying the views and reading my book. It was the perfect temperature and I had the place all to myself. Pretty awesome! My timing was perfect because right when I was leaving two other hikers showed up, and five minutes later I passed a group of four hikers headed up (they asked me to take a jump shot of them and I was happy to oblige).
Almost back to the trailhead, just after passing the wilderness registration board, I passed two hunters who were decked out in full camo with facepaint and everything (yes, hunting is allowed in wilderness areas, just like cattle grazing is allowed). Their weapons looked strange…perhaps they were bows? Neither of them carried overnight packs. I turned to see if they would fill out a wilderness permit but they just blasted right past the sign without giving it a glance.
On Friday Greg and I headed up to Mowich Butte and Sedum Point. I had hiked up to Mowich last year and failed to find the site of the old fire lookout on Mowich. Turns out I was VERY close!
Instead of hiking up from below, we drove up Road 41 as far as we could before we reached the dirt berm, beyond which the road has been decommissioned. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there’s a campfire site on the left where some idiots tried to burn all their trash before leaving. It didn’t burn, and just left a huge mess. This was just the first of LOTS of garbage that we saw on this hike.
In addition to that first huge berm, the road has dozens of berms along its length as part of the decommissioning process. I don’t understand the point, though. Are they meant to deter vehicles? No vehicle is going to make it past that first berm. Are they meant to deter ATVs? The ATVs just go up and over them. We saw plenty of ATV tracks. I wrote to the Gifford Pinchot Forest to ask about this, but they never wrote back.
Anyway, up the road we go.
There was lots and lots of vine maple along this hike. This would make a great fall trek!
After we turned onto the Mowich Butte spur we got a peek through the trees at Three Corner Rock.
Almost to the top of Mowich Butte the road becomes more overgrown.
Last year when I visited and walked that overgrown road, I ended up at what I thought was a dead end. I didn’t see the site of the old lookout, and I didn’t see many views. Turns out that for some reason a small section of the old road has become so overgrown that it just looks like you’ve reached the end. This view is looking west along the road, with all the trees growing right in the middle of it. Back in the 30s when the lookout tower was built this view would have been an unobstructed one over to the tower. We pushed through the branches on the left side and there we were.
Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier would be visible from here, but it was overcast this day and we had no views.
From Mowich Butte we hiked back down to Road 41 and then east towards Sedum Point.
All along this hike we’d been seeing lots of garbage, which looked to have been left by the ATV crowd. We’d also been seeing rubber bands here and there. We finally came across the source of those rubber bands, although I can’t imagine why an ATV rider would be carrying a package of rubber bands. And why the hell did they leave them here? Also, one of the packages was tied to a plastic water bottle with some twine. So far, my imagination hasn’t come up with a plausible reason for this scenario.
We only had one small plastic grocery bag, so we couldn’t haul out all the trash we saw, but the rubber bands we did haul out. In the process of bagging them up a little green frog hopped out of the bag of green rubber bands!
We saw a few of the old mile markers from when this road was actually a road.
Shortly before reaching Sedum Point we intersected the PCT.
The road goes along the base of Sedum Point, but that’s as close as you can get before you have to scramble. Scramble we did, until we got up to a rocky Sedum Point. Once again, overcast skies obscured long-distance views. This is looking west, to an unnamed hill in the foreground. I’m not positive, but I think that the forested hill that is just behind the foreground tree on the left is Mowich Butte:
Looking southwest. The pointy peak at left is Greeenleaf Peak. The pointy peak at right is Three Corner Rock.
Sedum (stonecrop) was blooming on Sedum Point. An appropriately-named landmark!
Penstemon also bloomed there.
Other wildflowers we saw on our hike:
It had been threatening to rain all day, and it did sprinkle a bit on the way back to the car, but it wasn’t too bad. Someday I’d like to hike up here coming up via the PCT from Road 43.