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?

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.

Friday

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:

Saturday

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!

Sunday

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.

Poppies!

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.

Monday

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!

Mirror Lake and Eagle Cap

Last year when Greg and I did the Lakes Basin loop we had hoped to summit Eagle Cap but the hot weather and hard hiking the previous day left us with not enough energy. So this year after finishing our very fun llama trek on the south side of the mountains, we drove ALL the way around to the north side to complete this unfinished business.

Whereas last year we approached Mirror Lake from the direction of Horseshoe Lake since we were doing the loop, this year we took the direct route up the East Fork Lostine River. This route was MUCH MUCH better than the route up the West Fork Wallowa River. (Yes, it is popular too. There were 30 cars at the Two Pan trailhead when we started on a Wednesday morning.)

Crossing the river. All of this shade was nice since it was a warm day.

Then we started climbing those switchbacks and getting better and better views.

Nice waterfall, though I’m sure it looks much more impressive earlier in summer. Possibly Lostine Falls?

We came to several areas where the river spread out into pond-like areas.

The first of MANY views we’d have of Eagle Cap. Tomorrow we hike up there!

Passed an almost perfectly-round snowmelt pond. I saw the large mound of dirt on the other side of the pond and wondered if this is some kind of old landslide.

Looking back to the pond.

The trail follows the river south along this big glacier-carved U-shaped valley. Beautiful!

The river snaked its way through the meadow just below the trail.

The trail crosses the river on a nice footbridge. In our the 2008 edition of Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Eastern Oregon he mentions that this bridge is collapsed. Obviously it’s since been replaced.

Looking downstream from the bridge.

Looking upstream.

Although there is an obvious trail that continues south through the meadow, the official trail leaves the meadow and enters the trees at this point.

Almost there!

Ah, Mirror Lake. A beautiful sight.

It wasn’t quite hot enough for a full-on swim, but we did go out in the water. Hey, Greg is standing on the water!

Nah, he’s just standing on submerged rocks.

We took it easy, puttered around camp, and made dinner. Evening was lovely.

This is a little pond near our site. I was really hoping that all those clouds would light up red and gold, but it didn’t happen. Oh well, it’s still very lovely.

It rained off and on all night, and sometimes it was quite a downpour. When we woke up the skies were completely overcast. Hey, that wasn’t in the weather forecast!

After breakfast we started up to Eagle Cap, hoping that the weather would clear soon.

Where we’re headed! You’d never know from this angle that there is a hiking trail all the way to the summit. No climbing or scrambling required!

Fortunately the clouds were high enough that we still had views as we climbed.

Soon our views encompassed approaching rainstorms. Drat! There was no evidence of thunder and lightning, but we were prepared to turn around immediately if we started hearing thunder. There were small rain storms in every direction. Looking west:

Looking south:

Looking north:

I had no idea there were bighorn sheep in the Wallowas, but we saw a small herd. I only managed to get a picture of one. Cool! (Actually, you can just see a second sheep at lower right, behind a small tree.)

Almost there!

Yay, we made it!

I did not find the hike up to Eagle Cap very difficult. It definitely helped to not be doing this hike on a hot sunny afternoon since there is no shade along the way. I think I was also fueled by the adrenaline that came from my frustration with the weather (yeah, it’s totally pointless to be frustrated by something I can’t control, but if it helped me summit the mountain at least it was a little productive!)

Despite the weather the views were pretty amazing. So here we go…

Looking down on Glacier Lake to the east with Glacier Peak on the right side (with the snowfield on it):

Looking south down the valley of East Fork Eagle Creek:

Looking west, with Minam Lake left of center, Needle Point above it, and the forested valley of the Minam River at right:

A zoomed-in view of the peaks to the west with Mule Peak at center and Granite Butte on the right (Mule Peak’s 1924 lookout is a ground cabin, not a tower, so you can’t really see it in this shot, but wow the views they must have up there!):

Looking west in the direction of Minam Lake (out of view), but you can just make out Blue Lake left of center:

Looking north with much of the Lakes Basin spread out below, with the valley of the East Fork Lostine River Valley on the left, Mirror and Moccasin Lakes in the lower foreground, the Matterhorn at upper center, and the valley of the West Fork Wallowa River at far right.

A close-up of the East Fork Lostine River, which we hiked up the day before and would hike back down the following day:

A close-up of Mirror Lake, with tiny Sunshine Lake at right:

A close-up of Moccasin Lake:

Looking northeast at Horseshoe Lake (you can make out the flat brown valley north of the Wallowas at upper right):

We spent about 30 minutes alone on the summit before another couple showed up. The rain had stopped and the skies were starting to clear up a bit, yay! A short while later another couple showed up. We spent about an hour up soaking up the stunning views and identifying landmarks on the map. On the way down we passed a couple coming up and they turned out to be trail runners. I can’t imagine trail running up here!

They spent just a few minutes on the summit and then came right back down, passing us slowpoke hikers as we moseyed along. They were in such a rush that they were cutting the switchbacks, sending rocks and sand skittering down the slope.

By early afternoon the rain was nowhere to be seen and the skies were finally clearing up. About time!

With our clothes still a little damp from the morning drizzle, Greg laid his out on the rocks to dry. It looks like a hiker laid down here for a rest and then evaporated, leaving behind his boots and clothes!

We spent the afternoon relaxing, napping, and playing gin rummy. Before dinner we went for a little jaunt over to Sunshine Lake, which is tiny but very beautiful. The clear skies were quickly vanishing, but the view was still incredible.

Back at our campsite we had just boiled hot water and poured it into our dehydrated dinner packets when rain drops started falling. We had seen the dark clouds gathering so we were prepared and had already stowed all our gear away. We grabbed our wine and dinner and scrambled into the tent just a few minutes before the skies opened and it POURED. I took a quick video to record the sound of the rain on the tent. Holy moly! (Click here to see the video.)

There was some thunder and lightning with this storm too, which wasn’t too scary because it didn’t last long and it was still daylight. All in all the storm was over in less than 20 minutes, and then the skies cleared up like it never happened!

We went to bed at dusk and fell asleep only to be woken up around 9pm by another downpour pounding on the tent. A few minutes later the thunder and lightning started up again. Only this time it was pitch dark and the storm lasted a FULL HOUR. This was not fun. It was actually scary. We weren’t camped on a high point, and indeed we were surrounded by many things much higher than us. So we weren’t worried about getting hit. But thunder is very loud and it echoed and boomed around the mountains and the darkness made it seem even louder. We’d see a flash, or sometimes several flashes in direct succession, and then the crack and boom of the thunder. It was intense. Finally it ended at 10pm and the ensuing quiet was a sweet relief.

I tried in vain to find some information online about how many lightning strikes we had that night of the 22nd, but I could find nothing. It seems that unlike lots of other weather history, lightning strike information is not as freely available. My guess is that there were 70+ strikes in that hour, probably much more. There was never more than a minute between strikes and it lasted a full hour.

The sunrise in the morning was weird and spooky since the sun was shining through smoke from wildfires in the Hell’s Canyon area. We hadn’t seen it the morning before because of all the clouds.

Except for the smoke a few scattered clouds, the morning was gorgeous and calm. You’d never know about the violent storm we experienced nine hours earlier.

The little pond near our site:

Goodbye, Mirror Lake! It’s been fun!

Hiking out under beautiful blue skies.

A stop at the ponds for a break before the final descent to the car.

Since we were hiking out on a Friday we expected to pass a lot of incoming backpackers and we did. Some of them we passed quite early on because they’d been camped somewhere along the trail the night before. Every one of those people asked us how we weathered the storm and we swapped stories. I didn’t count how many incoming backpackers we saw altogether, but there were quite a few. Even when we got back to the car around 2:30 they were still starting out. We were very glad that we’d been able to time our visit for mid-week to avoid the crowds!

This is the third time I’ve visited the Lakes Basin and it never ceases to blow my socks off. If we’d had more time we’d have loved to make a three-night loop out of this and go camp over at Minam Lake for the last night. Maybe next time! Despite the wild swings in weather we still had a great time on this trip. The Eagle Cap Wilderness has to be one of the most gorgeous areas in Oregon. It’s just amazing.

Llama packing to Cached Lake

In 2008 Greg and I went on a guided llama trip with Wallowa Llamas and had a lot of fun. Last year when backpacking through the Lakes Basin we saw a couple who were llama packing on their own and we thought, “We should do that!” So we returned to Wallowa Llamas and rented two of their finest for a trek on the south side of the mountains.

Our plan was to follow the loop outlined in 100 Classic Hikes in Oregon, by Doug Lorain. Day 1: Hike from the Boulder Park Trailhead to Cached Lake. Day 2: Hike from Cached Lake to Traverse Lake (a LONG day with a lot of up and down). Day 3: Hike from Traverse Lake to the West Eagle Trailhead where we would be picked up, skipping the steep Fake Creek portion of the loop that most people would have to do to get back to their car.

Unfortunately our plan didn’t quite pan out, as you’ll see. BUT, as you can see from this photo it was still an amazingly beautiful trip!

Bright and early Sunday morning the llamas were loaded into the truck and we set off for the trailhead.

We had been trained the day before on saddling the llamas and Raz supervised us one last time as we did this at the trailhead.

And we’re off! Didn’t take any pictures on the very beginning of the hike as we made sure everything was going okay with the llamas. We paused for a break at the wilderness boundary so the llamas could snack. They’ll eat ANYTHING. The wilderness is their buffet.

Greg and Marpa at the wilderness boundary.

Since it was late morning on a Sunday we started passing lots of backpackers headed out to the trailhead. Raz had told us that he was worried there might be bad blowdown on our second day that the llamas wouldn’t able to get over or around, so we asked every outbound hiker where they had been and what conditions were like. No one we talked to had been over in the suspected blowdown area, but one woman said that the day before she had talked to a group that was traveling with horses and mules. They had tried to head up to Wonker Pass and were turned back by all the downed trees. Yikes. If THEY couldn’t get past the blowdown we sure weren’t going to.

So we hiked and mulled it over for a little bit. Since we had suspicion about blowdown from Raz and a second-hand report from a hiker it looked like we should not attempt to head over Wonker Pass the next day. We would have to exit at the same trailhead we started at, which was not part of the original plan. So we wrote up a message for Raz and the next outbound hikers we saw we asked them if they’d be willing to make a phone call for us when they reached civilization. They agreed and we crossed our fingers that Raz would get the message so he would know about the change in plans.

And onward we hiked. At the two-mile mark is a big meadow.

At the other end of the meadow is Eagle Creek, which must be crossed. When we did the guided llama trip here in 2008 there was a nice big bridge across this creek.

But the bridge was destroyed in an avalanche the winter before last.

So we had to wade. But other than the nuisance of changing in and out of my boots, I didn’t really mind because the day was getting quite hot and that water felt GREAT!

While the llamas and I waited for Greg, Perseus took the opportunity to snack.

Just a short ways up the trail the creek has spread out into numerous little channels and we had many water crossings in a short amount of time.

Climbing up.

We passed a splashy side creek where we cooled off. Here is Greg sticking his head in the cascade. Refreshing!

Then at the four-mile mark we reached Eagle Meadow and it was time for a break.

We staked the llamas in the meadow and took off their packs, then we did the same and kicked back by the gorgeous clear waters of Eagle Creek.

We cooled off by filling our hats with water and dumping the water on our heads. FELT GREAT!! 😀

After an hour of relaxing, snacking, and enjoying the scenery we moved on.

The trail continues to follow the creek for a little while longer.

Then the trail starts moving away from the creek and climbing. There’s Needle Point straight ahead.

Then we hit a snag. Just 40 minutes after our hour-long meadow break Perseus sat down in the trail. We could not get him up. We took off his packs and gave him water, but he wouldn’t move.

Remembering what we’d been told about llamas being social animals that like to be with their fellow llamas, Greg went ahead with Marpa and I stayed with Perseus. We hoped that the site of the disappearing buddy would prompt Perseus to get moving, which is indeed what happened. I led Perseus up to a shady spot where Greg and Marpa had stopped, then Greg went back for the saddle bags. We took a 10-minute break there and continued on, hoping for no more incidents, which we didn’t have, thank goodness!

The last mile before Cached Lake was a little bit brutal. There was virtually no shade, it was a hot afternoon, and that section of trail was really rocky, which made for slow going. Greg was a champ, leading the llamas on that hot upwards trek without his poles while I stumbled in their wake.

The views were stunning, though.

Due to the late hour, our tiredness, and the fact that we’d been there before, we skipped the one-mile side trip to Eagle Lake and just pushed on to Cached Lake. (By the way, the junction with the side trail to Eagle Lake has no sign and it’s very easy to miss the turn-off. In fact, we only saw one trail sign the entire three days, and that was at the junction with the Bench Canyon Trail to Arrow Lake. All other junctions and landmarks were unsigned!) We were so glad when we finally reached Cached Lake. We unloaded the llamas, staked them in the meadow, gave them water, then set up camp.

We were so tired that we were in bed about 8:00! We got a good night’s rest and woke up to a glorious morning scene. (We didn’t know it yet, but our day hike would take us up on that towering wall behind the lake.)

Ah, very nice!

We had discussed the day before how we wanted to revise our plans. We knew that the Bench Canyon Trail past Arrow Lake was out since it’s not suitable for stock. One option was to move camp the second day and go over to Bear Lake or Lookingglass Lake. A second option was to stay at Cached Lake both nights. Since the first option required backtracking over the hard-won trail we’d JUST hiked over the previous afternoon and also required losing 1,000 feet of elevation only to regain it again on the climb up to one of the other lakes, we chose option two. Also, packing up camp again so soon didn’t appeal to us.

So on the second day we just did a day hike up to the unnamed pass that was two miles beyond Cached Lake. We had plenty of views along the way.

We lost the trail in this little meadow and wandered around for awhile before getting back on track.

The trail traveled along the high cliff directly above Cached Lake and we could see down on the grazing llamas and our camp (both of which are impossible to see in this shot since I was using a wide angle lens).

Still wide angle, but a little better view. The llamas are staked above that outlet creek and our campsite is in the tree island to the left of the llamas.

As the trail climbed up we came across some basalt which was weird to see in this mountain range of granite.

Granite on the left, basalt on the right. Weird!

Up here in the alpine there is little vegetation and only the hardiest trees survive.

This tough little wildflower has blooms that grow straight out, instead of up.

What a huge bunch of wildflowers!

Then we reached the unnamed pass, which was only marked by a small rock cairn.

The views, of course, were phenomenal. (For the three panoramas, click the photo to see a larger version.) This is the view looking west. Our original plan would have had us hiking down, down, down (way down) to Trail Creek, which can’t be seen here because it’s so far down. Then we would have had to go up, up, up those mountains to get up and over Wonker Pass. Yeah, it’s probably best we weren’t doing that. It looked daunting. I’m not sure where Wonker Pass is in this photo; I think it’s more to the left side of those mountains. On the far right is the deep forested gorge of the Minam River.

Another view to the west:

Looking east to Needle Point.

There was a sandy hill just north of the pass.

I hiked up it to explore. Here’s looking down at the pass. We came from the east (on the left). The trail continues on the right towards Wonker Pass.

At the top of the sandy hill I noticed a well-defined boot path heading north. I followed it, thinking it would lead to some viewpoint. But it just kept going. I followed it for a ways but never reached the end of it. Wonder where it goes?

We sat and enjoyed the views for awhile, peering at things through the binoculars and trying to identify landmarks from the map (always fun!). We saw two women who had backpacked over from Traverse Lake, although the previous night they had camped near Trail Creek, I think. I asked them about the bad blowdown we’d heard about and they confirmed it. Still not sure exactly where it is, but it sounds like it’s between Trail Creek and Wonker Pass. Anyway, their report confirmed that we made the right decision by not trying to hike that section. Those two backpackers were the only people we saw all day!

Finally we headed back down to our lake.

The day was young and we considered heading north to explore an intriguing trail to Pop Lake. This trail doesn’t show up on any of the USGS maps past or present, but it does show up on the new Forest Service quads. It even has a trail number, #1935.

I’m pretty sure we saw the junction for this trail, not too far beyond Cached Lake just before crossing a creek. There was a faint trail heading into the woods and a small rock cairn. I was intensely curious about this mysterious trail, but it was a hot afternoon and we could see that we’d have close to 1,000 feet of elevation to gain to get up and over the ridge between us and Pop Lake. So we skipped it. Back at home, poking around online, I could find absolutely nothing about this trail or the lake, so now I’m even more curious!

Things were calm and beautiful at Cached Lake.

It was another hot afternoon and since Cached Lake is basically just a depression in the meadow that is drowned in snowmelt water (i.e. it’s very shallow), swimming wasn’t possible. So we found a rock just off the shore and sat in the water. Good enough for me! (This photo cracks me up because it looks like a load of dirt washed off Greg’s body and clouded up the surrounding water. 😀 In reality the lake bottom was just VERY silty and got stirred up when he waded out there.)

We lounged around camp reading our books (such a luxury!), eating snacks, and enjoying the views.

Evening at the lake was lovely and we were better able to enjoy it after a fairly easy-going day.

In the morning we ate breakfast and started packing up, a process that took a lot longer than we thought it would. The llamas rested in the meadow while we worked. Their job would come soon enough.

Us at the lake before heading out. I love that Perseus ended up in this shot, and looking at the camera too! 😆

And we’re off.

We took a break at Eagle Meadow and I took some pictures of Greg and the llamas. Love this one because Marpa was chewing his cud and it looks like he’s chuckling!

Back across the creek.

And the final creek crossing just 0.1mi from the trailhead.

We made it!

We had arranged to be picked up at 2:30 and we got to the trailhead at 1:50. Good timing! Raz showed up around 2:40, having gotten our message about the trailhead change. Then we drove back to the llama farm. We were tired and dirty but very satisfied. It was a very fun and beautiful trip! I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to head into the backcountry with a lighter load on their backs. This is also a great option for people with back trouble or other injuries that prevent them from carrying a heavy backpack.

Also here are two videos I took of Greg leading the llamas, to show how easy it is.

Video 1

Video 2

Some notes about hiking with llamas

The llamas can carry up to 65 pounds each, which we did not even fully utilize. I think that on this trip each llama was carrying about 30 pounds. We did splurge and bring some heavy things we wouldn’t have brought on a backpacking trip. We brought four bottles of beer (packed carefully in our soft clothes) and we brought books (hardback books, no less!). We also brought a fresh change of clothes for each day. If I had to do it over again I would also bring two of those new lightweight backpacking chairs for lounging around camp. Here is a picture of a llama with full-to-bursting saddle bags.

I thought it would be nice to have something more elaborate for dinner than our normal deyhdrated meals. But then I realized that although the llamas would be able to carry the stove, pots, ingredients, etc. they wouldn’t be making the meal for us! I would still have to do the cooking and the cleaning and that didn’t appeal to me at all. So we stuck with our Mary Jane dehydrated dinners, which tasted just great after a long hot day of hiking. We did splurge a little for breakfast and had bagels with smoked salmon thanks to a small cooler filled with ice that we brought. Why no cream cheese? Because someone (ahem, me) didn’t package it up well enough and the melted ice water got inside the container. We had a gloppy white unappealing mess, so no cream cheese for us. And, as I mentioned, we did bring the beer, which we put in a nearby creek during the day to get it cooled off.

The person leading the llamas can’t use both hiking poles. Greg did most of the leading and on the first day he didn’t use either of his poles. On the third day he used one hand to hold the lead and the other hand to use a pole and this worked well. But if you’re in some steep or rocky terrain and want to use both poles, you can’t.

The second person really needs to bring up the rear so that any problems with the llamas can be spotted quickly. This means that the rear person is following in the llama dust cloud. I kept a good distance, keeping them in sight but not getting too close, and I still ended up with a dust-coated face at the end of the day.

There are three plants that are poisonous to llamas (lupine, false hellebore, and trapper’s tea) so we had to be on the lookout for those. The only one we saw was the hellebore and there were stretches of trail where it grew profusely. I watched from behind to make sure they didn’t grab some as they hiked, and we just hustled through those sections.

The llamas are well-trained and easy to handle. You take the lead and start walking and they follow along. It’s pretty awesome. Except for Perseus sitting down on the trail that first day, we had no incidents at all.

A common question Greg and I have been getting is “Did the llamas spit?” No, they didn’t spit. Llamas can and do spit but these ones did not.

Pine Lakes Trail

Greg and I just spent a week in the Wallowa Mountains and although most of our time was spent camping in the backcountry, we did one day hike on our first day. Although we had originally planned to day hike from the Summit Point trailhead, we ended up doing a day hike on Pine Lakes Trail #1880 because there was a geocache that Greg really wanted to find on the trail.

Finding the Cornucopia Trailhead is quite difficult because there is not a single sign. There are also several roads branching out from the area, some horse corrals, and a private lodge confusing things. If you ever go looking for the trailhead, you need to drive past the horse corrals and there is parking at a turnaround area just beyond. The trailhead coordinates are N 45 01.036 W 117 11.769.

This area was heavily mined in the first part of the 20th century and the trail starts out on an old mining road.

The road intersects a creek at a ford for horses but a hiker bridge is provided for those of us on foot.

The views started opening up and we got a view of the surrounding mountains.

The West Fork Pine Creek gurgled along beside us as we hiked north.

Then we crossed the creek on a footbridge.

Tiny Greg hiking through a big meadow. If it looks dry and brown, it was. They’ve had a hot dry summer out that way this year.

We crossed back over the creek and then the trail started switchbacking up the hill.

In William Sullivan’s eastern Oregon hiking book he described where to leave the trail to see a waterfall, so we did. Pine Creek Falls is a nice little waterfall that is pretty easy to get to.

A horse packer was headed down as we were heading up.

To the east we spotted two more waterfalls. One of these is probably Middle Fork Pine Creek Cascades, but not sure which one. This one was higher up the cliff:

And this one was lower down. We could have bushwhacked to this one if we’d had the energy.

After the switchbacks the trail begins a long traverse. The Pine Lakes are in that bowl up there.

Looking back down the valley we just hiked up. See all those clouds? It was a muggy day. Ugh.

At the 3.5-mile mark we reached the spot where the geocache was, just outside the wilderness boundary. This would be our turnaround point.

A better look towards Pine Lakes.

It would have been another four miles to get to Pine Lakes, making for about a 15-mile day hike, which we just weren’t up for. We DO want to come back and backpack to Pine Lakes, and in retrospect we should have saved this hike and that geocache for when we do that. The trail was quite rocky and dusty and is one of those trails you don’t want to hike more than once. Oh well….hindsight is 20/20!

Another thing to note is that we spotted several old mining artifacts on this hike, which was cool. This old cable was at the waterfall:

No idea what this is:

Or this:

Looking forward to a visit to Pine Lakes sometime in the future, which look quite lovely from the pictures I’ve seen!

Paradise Park

Last year Greg and I backpacked to Paradise Park with friends via the Timberline Trail from Timberline Lodge. This year we did a day hike via the Paradise Park Trail. We visited a month earlier than we did last year but the flowers were at the same stage as our visit last year. Crazy how it can vary by a whole month from one year to the next!

The rain storm from the previous night must have been a doozy. There were channels carved through the thick layer of pine needles on the trail.

Lots of Rhododendrons along the trail.

Also lots of huckleberries! I like the red ones but these were the blue ones which are even better in my opinion.

Where the trail gets close to the cliff with the view we couldn’t see much because of the clouds.

Up, up, up. The trail is well-graded but it is VERY LONG.

About a mile before reaching the junction with the trail to Zigzag Mountain we started encountering blowdown. We had to climb over at least a dozen trees in that last two miles. Some of them looked like they were from last year, so I guess they don’t get up here every year for trail maintenance.

Another thing to note is that on the new Trails Illustrated map for the Mt. Hood Wilderness the mileage between the Zigzag Mountain Trail junction and the Timberline Trail junction is 0.2mi. We measured it at 0.4mi.

Shortly before reaching the junction with the Timberline Trail we got a peek through the trees at the mountain. It would be the only time all day we’d see the full mountain.

Here come the wildflowers!

Mountain? What mountain?

We headed over to check out the lovely creek, passing through more wildflowers along the way. This patch had pasque flower!

The flowers were exploding in the area around the creek. Still no mountain.

We sat by the creek for awhile enjoying the ambience and a snack. Lovely spot!

We could see up on the hill where a nice patch of beargrass had been blooming several weeks ago.

We retraced our steps back to the trail junction to check out the huge meadow there. On the way we got a good view to the west and the thick layer of clouds below.

More flowers!

Still no mountain.

The sunshine was pleasant and the meadows were enchanting. We found a flower-free patch of grass and waited to see if the mountain would come out of hiding. I lay down facing the mountain, with my pack as a pillow. It was so peaceful and nice there that I dozed off. 😀

Anyway, the mountain never did make a full appearance. This was about as good as it got, which was still pretty dang nice.

On the way back down we passed the tallest Pine Drops that I’ve ever seen. Wow!

The views at the cliff had improved.

10 miles in a day is about my limit, so I was dragging for the last two miles back to the car, feeling every step in my feet, legs, and knees. Thank goodness the trail wasn’t steep! Took us a little less than four hours going up and about three hours going down. We saw only two people on the trail for the whole hike, and about a dozen people in Paradise Park. Maybe it was the weather? We saw WAY more people than that last year.

Hike to Ramona Falls

I had plans on Saturday so Sunday was my day to hike this weekend. The forecast called for 90% chance of rain. Bah! I’m not a fan of hiking in the rain, but I really needed to get out for a hike. So Dawn, Buddy, and Timmy, and I headed up there with our rain gear. Fortunately when we got to the trailhead it wasn’t raining, just very overcast. So we shoved the rain gear in our packs and headed out.

The bridge over the Sandy River is in a different spot than the last time (2009) I was here. Last time with Greg:

This time:

Mt. Hood was just barely visible through the clouds. (See the yellow tent? Someone camped here the night before.)

We saw quite a few pentsemon in bloom:

And LOTS of rhododendrons in bloom (yay!). I think we hit them at just the right time. Beautiful!

There’s a spiffy new bridge over Ramona Creek that I don’t remember being there four years ago.

Dawn tested out the old bridge:

Ramona Creek is SUCH a lovely creek. I was too lazy to get out the tripod for these shots, but I couldn’t resist taking some pictures of this prettiest of creeks.

The forest along here is just so beautiful.

There was a large Meetup group that we kept encountering. At one point they were all coming back to the trail from the forest and we asked what was back there. They said the old PCT was over there and they had been checking out an old footbridge. Anyone here know the scoop on that?

And then we were at Ramona Falls! I always kind of “forget” just how huge this waterfall is. Every time I see it in person I’m just as blown away as I was the first time I saw it. It’s one of my faves!

By the way, if you’ve ever been curious about how this waterfall got its name, Oregon Geographic Names says that John E. Mills, a USFS employee, discovered and named the falls on August 8, 1933, while locating trail. He was courting his wife-to-be and his head was full of the romantic song “Ramona”.

We all enjoyed some snacks at the falls, including the dogs. Did someone say “treats”?

After a break and some waterfall admiration we continued down the trail towards the Sandy River to complete our loop. We took a short detour to check out the old 1935 Upper Sandy Guard Station on our way back. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in September 2009, but it hasn’t been preserved. (Read the nomination form here for lots of great history.)

Funded by the Emergency Relief Appropriations (ERA) Act of 1935, and cooperating funds from the City of Portland, the cabin was built along the newly constructed Timberline Trail specifically to provide housing for an administrative guard to protect the Bull Run Division watershed, the source of the City of Portland’s drinking water supply, from public entry.

The cabin has been abandoned for a long time and the roof is in bad shape. The tarp that was put up there several years ago is now in tatters and a gaping hole in the roof is letting in the elements.

I’ve been told by the current Forest Service historian that because it sits inside a wilderness area the wilderness laws trump the historic preservation laws, so the building is being allowed to deteriorate. (Although, I was under the impression that if a building already existed in a wilderness area the Forest Service was allowed to perform maintenance/upkeep on it. Am I wrong?)

It’s a real shame, especially since the Forest Service seemed willing to preserve the building back in 2009 (see a March 16, 2009 article here). The Northwest Forest Conservancy, the group that was interested in seeing the building preserved, seems to be defunct/inactive.

It’s also interesting that the building doesn’t show up on current topo maps anymore.

After that little side trip we had an uneventful hike back to the car. Got a good view of some of the flood destruction along the Sandy River. Never underestimate the power of Mother Nature!

About halfway back to the footbridge over the Sandy we came across three women who were hiking in and they asked us if they were headed in the right direction for Ramona Falls. They said they had gotten turned around and had been hiking for a long time. We told them they were on the right track and Dawn gave them her photocopy of the hike description and map from Sullivan’s book, but I’d be real surprised if they actually made it all the way to the waterfall. One of them was wearing sparkly flip-flops and I was surprised she had made it even that far.

Back at the river crossing the mountain was showing a little bit more, but was still mostly in the clouds.

There had been spits and sprinkles all day, but nothing significant. And it was super mild, in the 60s at least. I had on long sleeves and wished I had my tank top instead. We were both pleasantly surprised that the crummy forecast hadn’t come true. And then as we were driving away from the trailhead the skies opened up. By the time we crossed the Sandy River the windshield wipers were going full speed. Wow, did we time that well or what?!

Great hike! It was nice to get out here again after a four-year absence.

Wauna Viewpoint

My geocache at Wauna Viewpoint needed to be replaced so I decided to celebrate National Trails Day on Saturday by hiking up there with a new cache. I invited my friend Dawn to join me.

We started out at the Tooth Rock trailhead and headed east on the historic highway, now a nice paved bike path.

As we neared Eagle Creek we got a view of Bonneville Dam. See all those clouds? It was cloudy and warm and it made for a pretty muggy morning!

We saw a number of tiger lilies blooming (or about to bloom) on our hike. I love these!

Since we were so close we headed over to the bathrooms at Eagle Creek before continuing on our hike. We had been hearing loud music for awhile and it seemed to be coming from the Eagle Creek area. We couldn’t see where it was coming from (not yet, anyway), but the thumping bass followed us on our hike for most of the day.

After our bathroom break we headed up the trail to connect with old Road 777. We spotted this carving on a log.

Everything is green and lush, including the moss on this giant fallen tree.

The ferns in this one area were huge, almost as tall as we were!

Since the hike to Wauna Viewpoint is relatively short we decided to first take a two-mile round-trip detour up Road 777 to the old Wauna Point trailhead, where some lovely little waterfalls are located. The sun had just started coming out so the photos were a bit tricky. I love these falls, though. So pretty!

Then we headed back down the road and picked up the Gorge Trail, then the side trail up to Wauna Viewpoint.

We could see across to Washington.

And there was a big distant waterfall between the two mountains. Greenleaf Falls?

Bonneville Dam

Looking east to Bridge of the Gods and Cascade Locks. Man I love all that beautiful green!!

Looking up the canyon of Eagle Creek.

Looking west.

The skies had cleared up quite a bit and the views were so nice. I hid my cache, we enjoyed a snack, and then sat and soaked up the views. I don’t think this viewpoint sees too many visitors, which is a shame. It’s a short and not difficult hike and the payoff is pretty big.

After we got back to the car we stopped at Eagle Creek to try and locate the source of the obnoxious music that had we had been hearing for most of the day. We finally found it at the reservable group use area on the north side of the freeway at Eagle Creek. There was a huge group camped out there and they had music thumping out of a bunch of amps. I wonder if that was even legal.

Great hike and great company!

Lyle Cherry Orchard

With a rather dismal-looking forecast for Portland on Saturday Greg and I headed east in search of sunshine. We originally wanted to do Cook Hill but decided that without perfectly clear skies for the nice views it wasn’t worth doing. So we decided on the Lyle Cherry Orchard trail.

When we started out the skies were overcast and it was sprinkling. The narrow window of  Everything Is Green! in the eastern Gorge is closing and the grass here is already brown.

Rain from the morning lingered on the lupine leaves. (It lingered on a lot of vegetation, actually, and I had soon had wet boots as a result.)

Views down to the river.

Once we leveled out up on top the poison oak seemed to be EVERYWHERE. It was growing out over the trail and we were really glad we had on long pants.

Down below the lupine had already gone to seed. Up above it was just starting to go to seed. In past years we have been too early to see the lupine blooming at all, and this year we were almost too late!

The oaks were fully leafed out and it was a green green world up there.

And then we reached the big grassy meadow at the end of the trail.

There were some lupine blooming in the meadow, but not the purple kind. Greg later identified it as Velvet Lupine (indeed, the leaves felt velvety!).

This is new since I was last here. There’s a memorial here for someone who died in January 2012.

We ate a snack and admired the view.

By this point the skies were really clearing up and we actually had blue sky!

We saw a herd of deer on the next hillside over. We got a good look through the binoculars, but my zoom lens just barely picked up two of them. Can you see them?

Then we turned and headed back.

This was a particularly bad section of poison oak. It has almost totally overtaken the trail.

Once we left the protection of the trees we were hit by winds that had picked up in the past hour. Greg’s hat looks like it’s about to take flight!

It was SO windy that this bird (raven or crow?) was hovering in place as he “flew” into the wind. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and it was fun to watch. I wish I could have gotten it on video.

One last view!

We saw almost no other people on this hike. We saw two people at the very beginning who turned around after about half a mile. And we saw a group of four hikers near the end of the trail as we were heading back. But that was it. Least amount of people I’ve ever seen on this trail!

As you can see, the poison oak was very bad. We were very careful and we washed everything as soon as we got home. Too soon to tell yet if we got any on our skin. As for the ticks we flicked a number of them off our pants and socks, but no ticks made it past our clothing.

The wildflowers are wrapping up here and they’ll probably all be gone in a few weeks. Greg’s full wildflower report for our hike is here: http://oregonwildflowers.org/viewreport.php?ID=554