Lewis River Trail

  • Date: November 25, 2017
  • Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Start: Lower Falls Day Use Area
  • Distance: 8.8 miles
  • Duration: 4 hours 55 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 450 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

I hoped for a fast-paced, epic sufferfest (or something along those lines) to cap off our Thanksgiving Break. As luck would have it though, bad weather crapped all over that plan. Too lazy and defeated to come up with a plan B, we opted for something simple but scenic: a waterfall tour along the Lewis River. We arrived at the leisurely time of 9 am to a surprisingly empty lot. Despite the forecast, I’d still expected to see a few cars given the popularity of the hike we were about to do (not that I’m complaining). We’d have the trail to ourselves for the time being then!

From the parking lot we walked a short ways to the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint. These falls are the primary attraction, as well as the most accessible, of all the falls along the trail. It was easy to see why and so great to finally see them in person! They were also particularly voluminous and heavy (as were nearly all of the falls we saw throughout the morning) due to recent rain. We continued north, passing numerous structures (staircases, boardwalks, picnic tables at a campground, etc.) indicative of how busy this area usually is. We still hadn’t seen another person though.

Lower Lewis River Falls
Stairs leading down to the river
Heading into a grove of alders
Small seasonal waterfall

After the campground and footbridge crossing, the frontcountry-esque structures disappeared and we enjoyed a peaceful walk through the forest. A short detour due to a landslide that has the main trail closed took us up to the Middle Falls Trailhead and quickly back on the main trail past the washout. From here we hiked by two more waterfalls. First came spectacular Copper Creek Falls. After crossing the bridge above the falls there’s a short but steep side path that leads down to an amazing viewpoint. Middle Falls came shortly after. It didn’t quite have the same ‘wow’ factor as Lower Lewis and Copper Creek, but it was still a worthwhile side trip.

Cassie enjoying some off-leash time since no one else was on the trail

Copper Creek Falls from aforementioned viewpoint

Middle Lewis River Falls

Back on the main trail, we passed beneath moss-covered rocky cliffs and stopped for a snack break when we reached an area dotted with a handful of towering old growth trees. I’ll admit our primary reason for stopping here was so I could get a picture of the tallest tree I could find. Fitting it into the frame proved to be quite difficult and took several attempts at various angles. I think the final product (see “old growth” picture below) turned out nicely though.

Old growth
Begging for (human) treats

Just around the corner from the old growth section was the second to last waterfall, Upper Lewis River Falls. We picked our way carefully over slick rocks to stand on the river’s edge and get a good look at these thundering giants crashing dramatically into the Lewis. Even though we were standing a fair distance away, the mist coming off of them managed to soak us quickly. Ready to dry off and warm up, we returned to the main trail and finally got a small dose of uphill hiking (everything before was relatively flat). We made it to the Taitnapum Falls viewpoint high above the river before turning around. On the way back, we made one final side trip to the Upper Lewis River Falls viewpoint to experience a slightly different perspective from above the falls.

Upper Lewis River Falls

Taitnapum Falls
Upper Lewis River Falls from the designated viewpoint

We hiked back out the same way, enjoying our favorite waterfalls (Copper Creek and Lower Lewis) for the second time. Our few hours of solitude had come to an end though. Now that it was early afternoon more and more people were starting to make their way down the trail to admire the waterfalls and possibly walk off their Thanksgiving feasts from two days prior (like we were trying to do). It certainly pays to get up and drive out before sunrise sometimes.

Back at the Lower Lewis River Falls viewpoint, before turning off to head back to the car, we finally took our much anticipated cocoa break. We huddled together on a downed tree, gripping our cocoa-filled Nalgenes to warm our hands. Despite the occasional hikers passing by a few feet away on the trail, only the sound of the rushing Lewis River filled the air. A calm, peaceful end to an eventful Thanksgiving break.

Cocoa break before heading back to the car

 

Silver Star Mountain via Grouse Vista

  • 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…

Looking back at Pyramid Rock

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.

Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier from the summit
Cassie is clearly thrilled that we’re taking a selfie
Sick of photos already

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.

Mount Hood from Indian Pits Trail

Cassie at Indian Pits

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.

Silver Star, Mount St. Helens, and Mount Rainier
Close up of St. Helens and Rainier
Looking back at Indian Pits
St. Helens, Rainier, and Adams

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!

Pyramid Rock

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.

View from the summit of Pyramid Rock
Looking down on Grouse Vista Trail
Getting ready to scramble back down
Cassie hates me

 

Siouxon Creek

  • Date: October 30, 2016
  • Location: Gifford Pinchot National Forest
  • Start: Siouxon Creek Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Duration: 4 hours 40 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 1615 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Oregon Hikers

Between the Enchantments, a 30-mile adventure run, and the Elk-Kings trail races, our past few weekends have been filled with outdoor fun. Unfortunately, none of it has been dog friendly. In fact, the last adventure that Cassie was able to join us on was our attempt to backpack around the Three Sisters (which we ultimately weren’t able to complete). We were definitely overdue for a family hike, and with the weather being more cold and wet these days, we wanted to explore an area that would be accessible in (and maybe even benefit from) these conditions. Siouxon Creek fit the bill.

I had the opportunity to hike most of our route last Spring when I went with a few ladies from Cascadia Women’s Mountain Group. I remember it being lusciously green, cool and shaded, with stunning views of the crystal clear waters of Siouxon Creek for nearly the entire hike. In addition, it was very moderate in terms of elevation gain and tread conditions. (I actually hiked it the day before a half marathon, too!) Mack and I considered taking Cassie here for her first backpacking trip, but it never panned out. This past weekend seemed as good a time as any to explore it.

We arrived at the trailhead late in the morning around 10 am. I expected the parking area to be at least half full, but, to our surprise, there were only two other cars parked and the occupants were still gearing up for their own treks. The forecast for a rainy afternoon probably deterred people. More peace and quiet for us! We started out heading northeast on the trail, hiking downhill through a lush evergreen forest. We arrived at the West Creek footbridge. I noticed immediately that it’s been completely replaced since my hike last April! It used to be a single log bridge with railing on only one side. Now it’s a couple of feet wide, comprised of planks, and has railing on both sides. I have to say I liked the other one a bit more, but I imagine this new one is much safer. After crossing the bridge and hiking up a short ways, we got our first clear view of Siouxon Creek, as well as several campsites below the trail. The creek on the left juxtaposed beautifully with the forest on the right, as you’ll see in some upcoming photos.

Just under 1.5 miles in, we were rewarded with our first waterfall: Horseshoe Falls, a triple tiered beauty that tumbles down about 60 feet. We carefully made our way down a slippery side path to get a better view of the upper tier and the footbridge that crosses Horseshoe Creek just above the falls. After crossing the bridge and continuing on another half mile or so, we were rewarded yet again with another stunning waterfall: Siouxon Falls, a smaller waterfall (about 30 feet) accentuated by the emerald green pool it plunges into. There’s a bench right off the trail where you can sit as long as you’d like to fully absorb this mesmerizing scene.

Horseshoe Falls

Siouxon Falls

We continued along at our leisurely pace, stopping often to take pictures (which Cassie tired of very quickly) or let Cassie drink from the numerous streams we crossed. Mack had an especially fun time snapping photos of colorful fungi on the more forested side of the trail. Aside from a few muddy spots and a section where a stream flows directly onto the trail, the surface was in good condition. Mack and I contemplated the idea of doing an adventure run up to Siouxon Peak the next time! The trail descends into a particularly lush section before reaching the junction with Wildcat Trail on the left (which requires a crossing of Siouxon Creek) and, shortly thereafter, the second junction with Horseshoe Ridge Trail (the first junction is less than a mile into the hike).

From the Horseshoe Ridge junction, the footbridge that crosses Siouxon to access Chinook Trail is only 0.75 miles away. However, just before the bridge, there is a very slick creek crossing, made more difficult (and slightly unnerving) by the smooth rock that the water rushes across and the fact that the creek drops below into the Siouxon. Trekking poles were definitely very helpful here. Cassie was very hesitant and reluctant to cross (causing me to slip and fall at one point), but we made it across safely. After crossing the footbridge we continued past some campsites to Chinook Falls, our final destination on the hike. Standing at the base meant getting showered with mist and getting colder and colder the longer we stood there. It was worth it though to see this majestic waterfall, robust from the recent rain storms, plummeting straight down into Chinook Creek.

The dreaded creek crossing

Chinook Falls

Our initial plan was to cross Chinook Creek and follow a trail on the west bank that leads to the Wildcat Trail and, ultimately, up to Wildcat Falls. Since we started late and took our time, and since Cassie did not seem excited about more creek crossings, we turned around after Chinook Falls. We stopped for snacks at one of the campsites along Chinook Trail, rewarding Cassie with Babybel cheese wheels and Barbara’s cheese puffs. We returned the way we came. Cassie still had a little trouble making that tricky creek crossing after the footbridge (and my boots filled with water because of it), but the rest of the way was a breeze. Out-and-backs aren’t always my favorite types of hikes because the scenery doesn’t change, but this one was still just as enchanting on the return.