- Date: October 15, 2017
- Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
- Start: Grouse Vista Trailhead
- Distance: 9.2 miles (with side trip to Indian Pits and a navigation error)
- Duration: 3 hours 15 minutes (breaks not included)
- Elevation gain: 2040 feet
- Type: Out-and-back
- References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald; Oregon Hikers
After early season snow forced me and some friends to cancel our much anticipated ladies backpacking weekend, I was kind of at a loss about what to do instead. Mack had already planned an exploratory run with a friend, so adventuring together wasn’t an option. I actually considered trying my first solo backpacking trip with Cassie! Unfortunately, the routes I was considering were all under snow as well, and I wasn’t interested in lugging heavy snow gear around for an overnight trip. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little distraught over all my various plans falling through, especially since the weather forecast called for clear skies and sunshine! In the end, I settled on a familiar route up to Silver Star Mountain, which was still (mostly) free of snow and would offer an incredible view with a cloudless sky.
Cassie and I started from Grouse Vista Trailhead sometime mid-morning. There were a few groups heading up around the same time, but it wasn’t too crowded yet. After running/power-hiking the first mile on a steep and rocky forest road, we were rewarded with a little more solitude (and a more level trail) as we emerged from the forest and onto a meadow covered hillside. I’d previously done this route in the spring when wildflowers and green grass carpeted the area. I remember thinking that spring was definitely the best season to explore here. Returning in the fall changed my perspective immediately. We managed a decent pace along the ridge now that we weren’t climbing steeply. It felt good to stretch my legs after the calf burning first mile. After passing beneath Pyramid Rock and enjoying expansive views to the west and northwest, we reentered the forest and started climbing again. Somehow I’d completely forgotten about all the elevation gain on this route…
Thin patches of snow became more frequent as we continued to climb, practically covering the trail once we passed the junction with Indian Pits. Cassie bounded back and forth, excited to be running and rolling around in it. After one final steep (and slick because of the snowy conditions) push, we arrived at the saddle between the dual summits of Silver Star. We took the left spur, which leads to Silver Star’s true summit. For a short while, we had the summit to ourselves and enjoyed views of St. Helens, Rainier, Adams, Hood, Jefferson, Sturgeon Rock, and the incredible Bluff Mountain Trail. I attempted a few (okay, maybe 20+) selfies with Cassie since Mack wasn’t around to help with the picture taking, but she wasn’t having it.
My original plan for the day was to get in a few extra miles by running an out-and-back on Bluff Mountain Trail, tagging Bluff Mountain and Little Baldy along the way. However, by the time we made it down from the summit, it was already past noon and Cassie was moving a bit slower (and very unmotivated to move any faster). After a solid five to ten minutes of debating with myself, I decided to turn around and tack on the shorter side-trip to Indian Pits. It turned out to be a worthwhile alternate. Not only was it completely free of other hikers, but it had one of the most vibrant displays of fall foliage I’ve ever seen! Our run turned into more of a hike as I stopped to take pictures of the increasingly beautiful landscape and mountain views.
When we arrived at the pits, I was disappointed to find all of them filled in with rock. Fortunately, when we turned around to head back, the incredible view of Silver Star alongside the Washington volcanoes more than made up for it. I might even go so far as to say that the views surrounding Indian Pits Trail are possibly superior than those from the summit of Silver Star! If you have the time to make it out here during a jaunt up to Silver Star, I strongly recommend it.
Back on the main trail, we continued our descent until we reached an unmarked junction. Looking at the map, the trail appeared to be an alternate route that approaches Pyramid Rock along its eastern side before meeting back up with the main trail shortly after. I decided to give it a shot, but after a half mile or so in I didn’t feel so certain about it. Part of me knew I was probably on the correct route, but now that we’d nearly reached mid-afternoon, taking the familiar route felt like the safer, smarter decision. Cassie was not happy to be turning around since it meant going back uphill. I had to coax her with treats to get her to follow me again.
We picked up the pace again as we ran downhill following the failed alternate route. The afternoon sun greeted us as we exited the forest and stepped out onto the open hillside, illuminating all the reds, oranges, and yellows that had been cast in shadows earlier that morning. After passing beneath Pyramid Rock again, we turned onto a side trail leading to that same alternate route that wraps around the rock’s eastern side. My goal was to find a worn path leading to the rock’s base so we could scramble up. Since I’d already backed out of running to Bluff Mountain and Little Baldy, I at least wanted to do this!
After searching for a few minutes with no luck, I turned us around. Then, as we were walking back, I noticed Cassie sniffing out a section on the edge of the trail. I thought she was getting ready to chase a squirrel or something, so I walked up ready to put her leash back on. On the contrary, she had sniffed out the climber’s path! I could see a faint path through the grass and brush. It led right to the base of the rock. We ran up and began the short scramble to the top. Usually Cassie is pretty conservative when it comes to exposed routes, but she seemed to have a lot of fun mountain-goating up this one! Although relatively easy, it was her first scramble, so I stayed close by, ready to spot her or lift her up over obstacles if needed. In the end, she ended up not needing any help at all. We enjoyed the summit as long as we were able to tolerate the hundreds of gnats swarming around at the top (which obviously wasn’t very long). The views from the top weren’t anything special after looking at the volcanoes from Silver Star and Indian Pits. However, the process of getting to the top (and back down) was the real worthwhile aspect of this side trip.
Despite not getting in the miles and additional summits that I’d originally hoped for, I returned to the trailhead feeling invigorated and whole. We didn’t have an epic, type 2 adventure, but we played outside, took time to slow down and savor every beautiful moment, and still managed to fit in something new (Pyramid Rock). Coming down from the crazy summer high (which was pretty much all type 2 adventures) has been more difficult than I thought it would be. Spending the day running up Silver Star and exploring around it was a necessary reminder that getting outside with those I love is all that should matter. I should never refrain from doing something because it doesn’t seem “epic” enough. I’d probably miss out on some wonderful experiences (like this one) if I did.