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!

Backpacking Through Grand Gulch

My sister and I wanted to do some backpacking while in Utah. (See my post from the first half of our Utah trip.) After hours of paging through the hiking books over the winter we settled on Grand Gulch, which is about two hours south of Moab. The canyon was home to prehistoric Indians between 700 and 2,000 years ago. Then they deserted Grand Gulch and the remains of their homes were left in the hot desert sun.

When white men arrived in the late 1800s they plundered and pillaged the old Indian sites, and many of the artifacts they collected ended up in museums. Today it is illegal for visitors to take anything from the sites. But you CAN get up close to many of the ruins if you do this hike, which is why we chose this trail.

After the two-hour drive from Moab we arrived at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, picked up the $15 permit we had reserved several months earlier, and got ready to hit the trail on what turned out to be a VERY windy day. There were some solar panels at the edge of the parking lot and I was sure they were going to rip loose and fly away!

The first four miles of trail are through Kane Gulch.

We spotted several dozen aspen trees along a stretch of trail about a mile in. According to the BLM glaciers deposited aspen seeds here during the last ice age. The seeds survived and grew into trees. The aspens that are here today are all of the same genetic makeup and they represent trees that have been growing here continuously for 11,000 years! 😯

There are some ENORMOUS boulders at the bottom of Kane Gulch.

There were still some pools of water from the last time it rained, but other than that it was pretty dry.

We spotted our first old Indian ruin way up high.

We saw a snake (not a rattlesnake) slowly crossing our path. He was pretty big, about four feet long. Since I know some people are afraid of snakes I won’t embed the picture here. Click this link if you want to see it.

We followed the twists and turns of the canyon.

Sometimes we were hiking right in the bottom of the dry wash, and sometimes cottonwoods were growing right there in the channel. This one had lots of debris wrapped around its trunk from past flash floods.

A note about the “trail” in Grand Gulch. Sometimes we were on a real trail with dirt or sand. Sometimes we were hiking in the dry wash. And many times we were climbing in and out of the wash. Even though there wasn’t really any elevation gain to speak of it still felt like there was. I lost count of how many times we were descending into a wash and climbing back out of it. Pretty tiring with a heavy pack!

Where Kane Gulch meets up with Grand Gulch is a very cool site called Junction Ruin. The ruins consist of cists, storage rooms, habitation rooms, kivas, and defensive structures.

This smooth depression in the rock is where they would have ground their corn.

This high upper level would have been the defensive level and would have been accessed via a ladder.

Kivas were dug out of the ground and are assumed to have been used for ceremonial activities. Back when they were in use they would have had roof beams and a roof made of bark. An opening in the roof allowed the people to descend into the kiva via a ladder. One of the ruins many miles further along Grand Gulch has a kiva that’s been stabilized enough to allow people to climb the ladder down into it.

Archaeologists think that the Indians abandoned the Cedar Mesa area around AD 1260. Although the reason for abandoning the area is not known, several possibilities include depletion of resources, drought, disease, or warfare. Besides the ruins themselves, all that is left here are pieces of broken pottery and corn cobs.

There were some handprints on the wall.

Pretty nice view from here!

The BLM has an ammo can on site with a logbook (made for some interesting reading) and a packet of info about this site and the people who once lived here.

After spending time poking around the site we continued on. We passed quite a few cottonwoods, which were newly leafed out and lovely.

We passed Stimper Arch, high up on the canyon wall.

We came to Turkey Pen Ruin.

The final push before we reach our stopping place for the night.

Water is scarce around here but we knew there was a spring at Todie Canyon. We hiked up the canyon about a quarter mile, found the spring, and filled up all our containers. (The map showed several other springs we should have passed throughout our trek but we never saw them. They were either dried up already or we just missed them. Good thing we carried plenty of water!)

The only empty campsite we found was a bit exposed, but it would have to do, so we pitched the tent and started making dinner behind a makeshift wall of rocks to protect the stove from the wind.

There were some ruins high above us.

With the sun gone and the wind blowing so hard it was pretty cold, so we went to bed right after dinner. Despite the seven miles of hiking we had done that day neither of us slept very well. The wind pummeled our tent all night long. If we hadn’t been in it I think it would have blown away. The wind also blew dust up underneath the rain fly and through the mesh walls of the tent. In the morning everything was caked in dust: our faces, our hair, our sleeping bags, EVERYTHING.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the wind was STILL raging. It was hard to relax and enjoy the surroundings with the wind buffeting you and trying to blow your stuff away. After breakfast we moved the tent to a more protected campsite which was fortunately vacant after the previous night’s occupants had packed up and left. Then we headed out for a day hike further along Grand Gulch.

We came to another set of unnamed ruins.

Some areas of Grand Gulch were surprisingly lush and green!

This is called Pour Off Pool, a pond of stagnant water. During flash floods a thundering waterfall would go crashing into this pool.

We came across this enormous old cottonwood tree. The picture, of course, doesn’t convey just how big this thing was.

We spotted some distant ruins high up on the canyon wall.

Then we were approaching Split Level Ruin, which is situated in a big impressive amphitheater of rock.

Same as Junction Ruin the BLM has an ammo can here with a logbook and info about the ruin.

This ruins here are believed to have been occupied during the Pueblo period (AD 750 – AD 1260).

The split level structure for which this ruin is named is believed to have been habitation rooms.

I found it kind of amazing that there are broken pieces of pottery just laying around at the ruins. People are told not to take them for souvenirs, and although I’m sure some people take them anyway, there are enough pieces still laying around that it seems most people are leaving them be.

A cactus in bloom near the ruins.

We rested in the shade for awhile since we had plenty of time. Deb did her best explorer imitation.

This is one of the many birds we heard. There were an astonishing number of them singing throughout the gulch.

The colors here were so vivid. Red rock, blue sky, and green trees. Beautiful!

I loved the look of this cottonwood. (My wide angle lens would have been better for this, but even though I lugged it along for the whole backpacking trip I never dared to use because of all the blowing sand.)

Back at our campsite in Todie Canyon it was too early for dinner so we hung out and relaxed (or tried to, anyway; the wind was STILL blowing).

I forgot to bring my deck of tiny playing cards, so after dinner we played 20 Questions, which somehow ended in a fit of giggles. (That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing that game!) By the time we turned in for the night the wind had finally FINALLY died down and we were able to sleep soundly through the night.

Nothing eventful on the hike out to the car. We were motivated by good food and drink waiting for us at the end of the day. Our total mileage for the hike was 20.5 miles over the course of three days. Many people do this trek as a 23-mile “loop” instead of an out-and-back. But if you do that the end of the hike has you exiting at the Bullet Canyon trailhead, which is 7.2 miles from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. We weren’t comfortable hitchiking back to our car, which is why we didn’t do that.

It was a two-hour drive back to Moab and even though we were hot and tired and dirty we had to stop at the Hole In The Rock. There’s a 5,000-square-foot “home” carved out of the rock here. A guy and his wife lived here before it became a tourist attraction.

We set up our tent at Up The Creek Campground (a walk-in campground with showers in the middle of Moab).

Then we headed to the Moab Brewery for some nosh and cold drinks. Excellent!

The next day we drove as far as Twin Falls, Idaho where we stayed at the KOA. From our campsite we had an excellent view of the amazing sunset. What a nice treat for the last night of our trip!

Utah is pretty amazing. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see a little bit of it on this trip!

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

Balsamroot Adoration

The peak of the balsamroot bloom this year happened while I was on vacation in Utah. I adore balsamroot, so on Sunday Greg and I drove out to the eastern Gorge to check out the beautiful yellow flowers before they were all gone.

Dalles Mountain Ranch

Except for one other couple, who left about 10 minutes after we got there, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. We spent half an hour delighting in the flowers near the gate and for that first quarter mile of road beyond the gate. The balsamroot were definitely past peak and starting to look a little ragged. The lupine looked great, though. Also, it was such a clear day that we could see Mt. Jefferson in the distance. 😀

I noticed a sign at the TH that I hadn’t seen before. Not surprising, since this is owned by Washington State Parks, but the sign indicates you can buy a pass in the park, even though there is no pay station there.

Tom McCall Nature Preserve (aka Rowena Plateau)

Here too the balsamroot was past its peak, but still looking fine enough for photos.


Weldon Wagon Road

Greg and I headed out to hike the old Weldon Wagon Road on Sunday. The weather didn’t cooperate too well (earlier in the week the forecast had said mostly clear but it turned out to be completely overcast). But neither of us had done this hike before so I was excited to do a new-to-me trail. And I got to see my favorite wildflowers: balsamroot!

The trail starts out on an old road through the forest. (Along this stretch of road we passed three men in military camo and carrying guns. They were on their way out. Very creepy.)

We immediately started seeing wildflowers, including fairy slippers and great hound’s tongue.

The trail leaves the forest and enters an area of meadows and oaks. Although the trees hadn’t leafed out yet the ground was carpeted in beautiful new spring grass. So green!

We started getting some nice views. Here is the White Salmon River valley:

Mt. Hood is out there behind the clouds somewhere:

The trail enters an area known as the White Salmon Oak Natural Resources Conservation Area. We could see hundreds of leafless oak trees all over the hillsides.

We could see across the valley to the huge sloping meadow of balsamroot before we started walking through it. A little less than half were in bloom. It’s just getting started and the next two weekends it should be great.

Here’s a shot looking back across the meadows.

We also saw some coralroot:

We saw a few other hikers out there, and a horseback rider passed us at one point:

The trail leaves the meadow and enters forest. It’s private property all around there so there are signs everywhere.

The last stretch of trail is a wide grassy path along an abandoned Christmas tree farm.

It ends at Sanborn Road where there is a sign with history of the old road and some rusty old farm equipment.

Then we turned around and headed back the way we came. I’d definitely hike this trail again, but only a clear day so I could get the full views. Great little hike!