Artist Point

  • Date: December 31, 2017 – January 1, 2018
  • Location: North Cascades
  • Start: Heather Meadows at Mt. Baker Ski Area
  • Distance: 6 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Snowshoe Routes: Washington by Dan A. Nelson; Washington Trails Association

The full moon shone brightly, illuminating a vast, snowy landscape crisscrossed with all the paths we’d taken that afternoon. I recalled the warmth of the sun from earlier in the day as I vigorously wiggled my fingers and toes within their gloves and boots, attempting the impossible task of staying warm with temps hovering around 10 to 12 degrees. Here we [Mack, Cassie, and I] were on New Year’s Eve freezing our asses off on a snow camping trip, just like the previous year. This time, however, we weren’t alone. Sitting out in the snow just a few yards from our tent, we were surrounded by strangers whose faces I only knew from their Instagram profiles. Before our trip began, I wasn’t entirely sure how camping with a new group of people would pan out, especially given my history of social anxiety. It turned out to be the best NYE decision we’ve ever made.

Our best family portrait ever captured by Stacia

 

Day 1: Heather Meadows to Artist Point, with side trip to Huntoon Point (3 miles)

The sun was high in the sky by the time we arrived at Mount Baker Ski Area. Bluebird weather meant everyone was out enjoying the superb snow conditions. What better way to spend the last day of 2017? Thankfully, a majority of our group (us included) had caravanned up from Marysville together and managed to get parking next to each other. Phew! At least one of my social anxiety-related fears—finding people I’ve never met in a crowded area–wasn’t going to be an issue. We hit the trail shortly after noon. After sitting in a car for nearly six hours, we were happy to finally be outside breathing in the mountain air. Cassie, who harbors an extreme aversion to being in a moving car, was especially ecstatic to be out and romping in the snow.

The snowpack in the Mount Hood area left much to be desired when we were there a few days earlier. The short trek up to Artist Point more than made up for it. For the first time in a long time we were getting legitimate use out of our snowshoes, too! I hung back, completely enthralled with our surroundings, trying to capture it all on camera. I found myself clumsily waddling to catch up with everyone more than a few times. Despite a couple of hills here and there, the hike up to the ridge was rather mellow. The incredible views along the way (in addition to those from the ridge itself) amounted to a seemingly disproportionate payoff. Even with heavier-than-usual packs, the reward far exceeded the amount of effort needed to reach it. It also meant we still had a few hours to make camp and roam about before sunset.

Austin Pass Visitor Center below Table Mountain
Another of Austin Pass Visitor Center
About half of our group

Typical snow-eating Cassie with Kulshan Ridge in the background
Mount Shuksan!
“Why are you humans so damn slow?”

As soon as we topped out, I was immediately overwhelmed. Southwest of us stood Mount Baker, her slopes glinting beneath the afternoon sun. Just east of us stood the rugged and mighty Mount Shuksan, whose sharp, jagged towers rose high above her long, outstretched arm. God it felt good to be back in the North Cascades. All I wanted to do was drop my pack and begin exploring the expansive Kulshan Ridge, but our first order of business was getting our camp set up. Another couple in the group had made it up earlier in the day and already set up their tent. We all followed suit and situated ourselves in a sort of line, forming a little city along the northeastern side of the ridge.

More “familiar” (i.e. I recognize them from social media) faces began to arrive, including Meghan, the organizer of this NYE snow camping bash, and Rose and Anastasia, the Musical Mountaineers. I’m a little embarrassed to say this because I know I’ll sound like a fangirl, but I was ridiculously excited to be in the presence of basically everyone in our group. Before this event, I already followed many of them on Instagram, consistently drawn to their ability to inspire adventure and foster a love for the outdoors through captivating writing and/or photography. Getting to meet them in person and find that they were all truly wonderful human beings was the cherry on top of the entire experience.

Good afternoon, Baker!
Yeah…we had a big group

Another view of our row of tents
Crowd gathering to hear the Musical Mountaineers!
Rose (keyboard) and Anastasia (violin), the Musical Mountaineers

The afternoon passed far too quickly it seemed. Following Rose and Anastasia’s absolutely magical performance (which I was so happy to have the opportunity to hear in person), the sun began to dip behind Baker. The formerly glistening white landscape took on a blue-ish hue with the receding light. We hustled to the Mount Shuksan viewpoint where Amanda, Stacia, John, Jon, Alissa, and Justin were also capturing the final moments of daylight. A few of us made the additional short side trip up Huntoon Point to watch the sun set behind Baker. The warmth of the sun had now officially left us, but the glow of the full moon beyond Shuksan, as well as the opportunity to continue conversations with new friends, kept us from returning to camp (and warmer layers) for a little while longer.

Photo by John

Photo by (other) Jon
One more Shuksan shot (by Stacia)

The gentle purple and blue of twilight gave way to complete darkness by the time we returned to camp. Everybody sat gathered in the snow, cooking dinner and keeping warm with stoves. We coaxed Cassie out of the tent–she’d been napping in there ever since we’d set it up–and joined the dinner circle. Continuous conversation has never been my forte in large group settings, so I listened, laughed, drank, chimed in occasionally, and enjoyed the unexpected sense of community. I hardly knew any of these people and yet I felt safe and comfortable; I felt a sense of belonging. There were still several hours left until midnight. I knew we weren’t going to make it, especially with the early start we’d had that morning and the long drive back we’d have the following day. Mack, exhausted and a little drunk from all the beer John lugged up to camp, turned in first with Cassie. I hung out for awhile longer until I couldn’t feel my toes then succumbed to the warmth of my sleeping bag.

As I lay inside the tent, unable to actually fall asleep despite being tired, I heard the rest of the group hunker down in their tents shortly thereafter. I tossed and turned for awhile, finding it difficult to fully relax because I had to pee so bad, but unwilling to leave the warmth of my bag and tent. It was 11:50 pm when I finally gave in, threw on my boots, and stepped outside into the cold. The ridge was empty, save for a couple of backcountry skiers; a stark contrast to the bustling crowds of the afternoon. The moon gave off so much light that I didn’t even need a headlamp to walk around. I wandered about for a short while. The only sounds that filled the quiet night came from a few nearby campers shouting “Happy New Year!” and the whoomph from my boots plunging into the snow with each step. A smiled to myself, realizing I’d actually made it to midnight (the first time in years I think). I allowed myself a bit more time to absorb the first few moments of the new year in solitude before returning to the tent. I whispered “Happy New Year” to Mack and Cassie, kissed them softly, then tucked myself back into my sleeping bag. It’s amazing how quickly you warm up (and fall asleep!) when you’re not holding in your pee.

Dinner in the dark
Cassie and Meghan
Such a bright and clear night!
Midnight wanderings
Midnight wanderings continued

 

Day 2: Artist Point to Heather Meadows, with side trip to Huntoon Point (3 miles)

Despite a somewhat restless night, the promise of a breathtaking sunrise got me out of the tent pretty quickly. Mack, Cassie, and I joined Stacia and Jon for another trek up to Huntoon Point. Cassie bounded joyously through the snow and up the boot path. She was well rested now and ready to run and play again. As we walked, I kept my eyes on the melding of colors taking place in the sky and their interaction with the mountainous landscape. The soft pastels of dawn perfectly complemented the wavy, quilted texture of the clouds. Shuksan was still a dark silhouette, but Baker glowed a rosy pink with the first light of day. I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed a more beautiful “first-light-of-day-mountain-glow” than the one from that morning. From Huntoon Point, we could see the sun beginning to rise behind Shuksan and made our way back down to the spot we’d taken pictures at the previous evening. Capturing those first rays of light as our little group stood before it was one of my favorite moments of the entire trip; a perfect and glorious start to the year.

Morning snuggles
Chasing the sunrise

Morning light on Baker

Shuksan sunrise
Finally warming up

Back at camp, champagne bottles were popped in celebration and Meghan was busy whipping up a New Year’s Day feast of turkey bacon and pancakes. I don’t remember what Mack and I ended up making for ourselves (if we made anything at all), but I do remember partaking in the pancakes and sharing both the pancakes and bacon with Cassie, who shot us puppy dog eyes whenever the servings were passed around. The North Cascades had blessed us with yet another perfect weather day. More and more people seeking sunshine and deep snow were making their way up by this point. The solitude of my midnight wandering just a few hours earlier felt like a distant memory, but in its place was a scene filled with families, friends, smiles, laughter, and warm and welcoming exclamations of “Happy New Year!” One by one people our group began to disassemble to pack up camp or begin a new adventure for the day. Our celebration together was coming to an end. Thankfully, in the midst of it all, we did manage to come together for our one and only group shot to mark the occasion.

Breakfast time

Cassie with Stacia and Jon
The crew

2017 was filled with a number of new, outside-the-comfort-zone outdoor experiences for both me and Mack. I’m glad we decided to close out the year and begin the new one with one of those experiences. We’re ready for all the adventures that await us for this new year and, after this trip, look forward sharing a few of them with new friends. I mean, when you meet people who find joy in freezing their asses off outside in the dead of winter, why wouldn’t you hold onto them? Thank you Amanda, Meghan, Matt, Stacia, Jon, Alissa, Justin, John, Allison, and Mitch for your adventurous spirits and welcoming presence. We couldn’t have asked for a more incredible New Year’s.

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Tamanawas Falls

  • Date: December 28, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: East Fork-Tamanawas Trailhead
  • Distance: 3.8 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 34 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 500 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Adventure Maps: Mount Hood Area
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles: Portland by Paul Gerald; Outdoor Project

Evergreens coated in powder. Fields dotted with marshmallow boulders. Frozen crystalline features dangling from cliff faces, fallen logs, and tree limbs. Majestic waterfalls cascading down into icy blue rivers. Mount Hood National Forest is a winter lover’s dream. Despite the unfortunate low snow year, it still managed to enchant us on our brief pit stop heading back from Smith Rock State Park.

We arrived at the trailhead sometime mid-morning, still sleepy-eyed (with the exception of Cassie, who was ready to get the hell out of the car) from our early morning alarm. Being the middle of the week, there was only one other car parked. Another uber-popular hike to enjoy without the crowds! We took our time getting dressed for the snowy conditions having just come from the high desert, but a quick jaunt on the first several yards of the trail indicated that we wouldn’t need snowshoes, just our microspikes. This was both a depressing revelation (so little snow compared to the same time last year!) but also a relief (no cumbersome gear attached to my feet).

The first part of the hike on East Fork Trail #650 parallels Highway 35. Once we turned onto the Tamanawas Trail that sign of civilization fell away as we ventured deeper into the wintry forest. The foreboding, dark waters of Cold Spring Creek rushed alongside us as we walked. Snow fell from the trees with the warming temps, sometimes as gentle sprinkles, other times as heavy snowballs. Cassie loved this and bounded ahead to chase the falling snow on a few occasions. One such occasion forced us to put her back on leash though after she chased some falling snow off the trail and sprinted into the woods. I panicked as we searched and shouted for her, nearly breaking down in tears until I heard Mack yell back to me that he’d gotten ahold of her (10-15 minutes after she’d run off). We’ve been pretty flexible with Cassie over the past year, allowing her off leash in places where it’s okay (i.e. no regulations in place and generally uncrowded) because she’s always remained close to us and has exhibited good recall. This was a necessary reminder that she’s still an animal and will get distracted when we least expect it.

Licking the ice rather than drinking the water
Alongside Cold Spring Creek
So many marshmallows

I was a little on edge and working to normalize my vitals following the Cassie fiasco. Tamanawas Falls turned out to be the perfect remedy for my anxiety. When we turned the corner and the waterfall came into view I was immediately awestruck and pleasantly surprised. I had actually expected it to be smaller based on photos I’d seen! I was of course ecstatic to see how truly spectacular these falls were in person. We carefully picked our way down the icy trail to the creek for a better vantage point then proceeded to hop through the field of frosted boulders until we reached a clear boundary where the surrounding snow was tinged with a glacier blue sheen, a color made even more brilliant by the juxtaposing dark hue of the creek and the cliff from which the falls tumbled. It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but more hikers were starting to make their way to the falls. It was time to relinquish our prime spot(s) and give other visitors a chance to explore.

First view from the trail!
View from the creek

Family portrait

On the return hike, we made time to stop and explore some of the more simple delights along the trail. There were several mini-falls to be enjoyed within Cold Spring Creek, a few of which cascaded into one another through a mesmerizing series of aqua-colored pools. There was so much to see on this short hike!

Can you see the tiered formation?

Icicles

The sun came out as we turned back onto the East Fork Trail, filtering warmth and light through the trees and making the snow on their limbs melt increasingly fast. We spent a good part of the hike back keeping our eyes and ears alert for these snow bombs, doing our best to dodge them whenever they happened to fall. Nonetheless we enjoyed the peaceful forested snow stroll, as well as the small sunbursts and patches of blue sky that greeted us through the trees every so often. On the final footbridge crossing before reaching the parking area, I lingered a few extra moments. Gazing out over Hood River, now a brilliant shade of blue thanks to the sunlight, I couldn’t help but reflect briefly on the soon-to-be-over year 2017 and all of the wonderful adventures and experiences that came with it. What does 2018 hold for our little family?

Sunny and snowy forest walk

Hood River from the footbridge
Another view of Hood River
What a multi-sport trip (with Cassie) looks like in my car

 

 

Saddle Creek-High Trail

  • Date: November 20-21, 2017
  • Location: Hells Canyon National Recreation Area
  • Start: Freezeout Trailhead
  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back

The search for a snow-free area to go backpacking in the Pacific Northwest can get a little tough by late November. I had originally wanted to head out to Utah or Arizona for some desert trekking, but the long drive there and back would’ve cut too much into our Thanksgiving vacation time. Searching more locally, the Honeycombs of the Owyhee Canyonlands were a particularly strong contender, but the notorious drive to reach the trailhead (and our lack of car-related emergency skills) eventually convinced us otherwise.

At the last minute (literally a day or two before we left), we decided on Hells Canyon in Eastern Oregon. It had actually been on our list for awhile, but we’d set it aside as a spring season trip. With our lack of options, we decided to give it a shot. In the end, it was a far from perfect trip (as evidenced by the trip’s duration and type, which was originally supposed to be a three to four day loop). However, despite the relatively minor setbacks that ultimately convinced us to turn around, our brief time spent in this rugged and remote section of Oregon only convinced us that we need to come back and fully experience everything it has to offer.

 

Day 1: Freezeout Trailhead to Log Creek (8 miles; 5 hours, breaks included)

After dealing with the stress of last minute trip/route planning and, thereafter, procrastinating on packing, we arrived at Freezeout Trailhead a day later than expected. My little Crosstrek was the only vehicle there that morning. Maybe it was because it was a weekday. Or maybe we were the only people dumb enough to be out there with rain and high winds in the forecast. At least we’d most likely have the place to ourselves!

The rain started as soon as we hit the trail and we got our first taste of what tread conditions were going to be like for almost the entirety of our hike in. The combination of prevalent horse use and heavy rain transformed the trails into a sloppy, shoe-sucking, mucky mess. Mud caked our boots from the get-go. Scraping it off was futile as it just continued to pile up as we hiked. In addition to the muck, sopping piles of horse shit (Cassie’s favorite trail snack unfortunately) covered our path. Thankfully, we had an expansive view of the area as we slogged up the switchbacks to Freezeout Saddle; a welcome distraction from the miserable aspects.

Looking down at all the switchbacks
Mack and Cassie nearing the saddle

According to our guidebook map and the signage at the trailhead, Freezeout Saddle is just over two miles in. However, it took us a whole two hours (with almost no breaks except to check our map) to reach it! I found it difficult to believe that we were actually moving that slow. Regardless, it meant we were losing daylight fast and still had a number of miles to cover in order to reach Saddle Creek camp. At this point, I had serious doubts about making it there or even continuing on. I wanted so badly to make our original 30-ish mile loop happen, but I knew it wasn’t likely. Knowing this fueled my desire to just turn around at the saddle, but Mack remained positive and insisted that we at least stay the night and make the most of our trip. I wasn’t thrilled in the moment, but in retrospect I’m happy he convinced me to push on.

In all honesty, we’ve dealt with worse conditions (I’m looking at you Hoh River Trail!), but for some reason, on this particular trip, I just wasn’t in the mood to deal with even the slightest amount of bullshit. If I’m being more honest, I was still feeling bitter about having to forgo our Utah plans (specifically Zion NP, where I’d seen a few friends sharing recent photos of absolutely impeccable trail and weather conditions) for something closer to home and it was messing with my attitude.

Freezeout Saddle
Looking back at where we came from

The rain had subsided by the time we reached the saddle (and blue skies were even starting to peek out from behind the clouds!), but the wind speed had picked up tremendously. We just couldn’t catch a break! We descended quickly in order to escape the blustery wrath and actually enjoyed semi-decent tread conditions and wind-free hiking for a short while. As we made our way down into the canyon, it felt more like we were journeying deeper and deeper into the heart of a vast mountain range straddling the Oregon-Idaho border. I managed to forget about my worries as I looked around me. Then conditions returned to their previous state just before the junction with the Bench “High” Trail. As if the slop fest wasn’t enough, there were even overgrown sections of tall grass thrown into the mix for an additional challenge.

Starting the descent

At the junction, we decided to turn onto the Bench “High” Trail rather than continue descending to Saddle Creek camp. With sunset less than three hours away, our best bet to avoid trekking in the dark on an unmaintained trail was to aim for Log Creek camp, only two to three miles away now. I knew by doing this we’d probably have to scrap the Snake River portion of our route, but I didn’t care anymore. I still half-wanted to turn around and go back to the car, especially when the wind picked up again and practically knocked us over for long stretches of time due to the exposed terrain. The majestic scenery along the Bench Trail managed to pull me back in though.

To our left, towering above us, was the rim of the canyon on the Oregon side. The Western Rim National Recreation Trail was somewhere up there paralleling our current path. To our right lay the Snake River somewhere far below and the outstretched rolling hills and rocky slopes of the Idaho side. We also happened to be moving in the same direction as a giant herd of elk! Over the course of two hours or so we encountered this large group of 30 to 40 at least four times. Cassie went crazy over them, barking and pulling hard on her leash. They continued ahead when they heard us, moving with grace and ease as a unit over the steep, rocky slopes.

Junction with Bench “High” Trail
We took the path on the left
So many elk!

We reached camp around 2:25 pm. (Side note: For those interested in hiking some of this route and camping here, know that this spot is completely unmarked/unsigned. Bring along a good map and be able to find Log Creek on it. The camping spot is a short ways off the trail on a noticeably impacted site.) It wasn’t raining anymore and we were out of the wind. Maybe our luck was about to change? Nope. Instead of getting to relax and de-stress, we were swarmed by gnats. It was impossible to sit outside and enjoy the nice weather and scenery, even if we moved around. They followed us everywhere! I spent our down time in camp swatting them away from my face and picking them out of Cassie’s hair. The gnat attack made cooking dinner an absolute nightmare of course. We barely managed enough to eat because of it.

The only time the swarm finally subsided was when it started to pour again. We were still finishing dinner when it started up. We scrambled to get our food hung and hauled ass back to the tent. Cassie was so desperate to get in she belly crawled under the rainfly and pawed at the tent. She was covered in mud though so she was forced to hold out a little longer until we could wipe her down. She was not happy about this and literally gave us the cold shoulder for the rest of the night. We attempted to salvage the rest of our evening with cocoa and holiday movies as we listened to the rain patter on the tent.

Looking up at the rim

Campsite near Log Creek (as seen from the trail)

 

Day 2: Log Creek to Freezeout Trailhead (8 miles; 4 hours, breaks included)

We awoke in better spirits the next morning, although I think a good deal of that can be attributed to the fact that we’d already decided to cut our trip short and hike back out. With the decent weather, the gnats were back in full force as we packed up the tent. Despite being extremely hungry (especially after not eating enough the previous day), we skipped the sit-down breakfast and stashed snacks in our pockets so we could get moving instead. I munched on my Poptart as we hiked once we’d put some distance between ourselves and the gnats.

Morning snuggles

We’re totally getting attacked by gnats in this picture

We hiked a lot faster this time around while still taking moments here and there to appreciate our surroundings. The conditions hadn’t improved of course, but by this point we were used to it and had clean socks and shoes to look forward to back at the car. Freezeout Saddle remained in view for much of the Bench Trail part of the hike. Always getting closer, but still feeling faraway. I wasn’t looking forward to the final climb up to it.

Storm a-brewin’ it seems

Still a ways from the saddle (upper right)
Miles and miles of this stuff

As expected, the two mile climb from the junction back up to the saddle was the most difficult part of the day. On top of that, the wind and rain had returned and clouds had descended upon much of the Idaho side (i.e. no more expansive views). The Poptart I’d scarfed down a few miles back had done little to satisfy my aching stomach. We were getting closer now though. I daydreamed about all the food we had stashed in the cooler in the car and it kept me moving.

Starting the climb up from the junction
Last bit of bushwhacking!

Cloudy views from near the top

The weather (with the exception of the wind) seemed to instantly improve once we began to make our way down the opposite side of the saddle. We had views again! Somehow though Mack and I had swapped places in terms of general demeanor. Now he was the one in a cranky mood, anxious to get back and change out of his mud covered pants and boots. (Oddly enough, I managed to stay mostly mud-free with the exception of the bottom and sides of my boots) Fortunately, this final stretch went by quickly and before we knew it we were back at the car by 1:15 pm, throwing on clean, dry clothes, and stuffing our faces with bagels and other snacks.

As we sat there in the car, resting up before the long drive back home, I actually felt a tinge of sadness that we were leaving so early. Despite the crappy weather, awful trail conditions, and swarming gnats, the beauty and solitude we’d experienced over the past two days were what stood out in my mind (even if they didn’t completely outweigh some of the negative aspects). Well, Hells Canyon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon as far as I know. We’ll definitely be back to explore more thoroughly in the near future I imagine.

Salmon River Trail

  • Date: October 31-November 1, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood National Forest
  • Start: Salmon River West Trailhead
  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • Map: Adventure Maps: Mount Hood Area
  • References: Oregon Hikers

One of the perks of being a music teacher at the academy I work at is the built in vacation time during typical holiday breaks (generally coinciding with the local school district’s schedule). This includes Thanksgiving and Christmas, but in recent years, it has also included Halloween! This year, with Mack no longer working retail (and thereby having more control over his schedule), we were able to plan a Halloween backpacking adventure with Cassie. It was by no means ambitious or difficult (purposefully intended since our final 50K race took place a few days later), but it was the perfect mid-week getaway and a great inaugural trip for what will hopefully become an annual Halloween tradition.

 

Day 1: Salmon River West Trailhead to Goat Creek, with side trip to Frustration Falls viewpoint (5.5 miles; 3 hours 40 minutes, breaks included)

We took advantage of the short mileage day with a later-than-usual start at noon. There were only a couple of cars parked at the trailhead, so we could look forward to some solitude on this generally popular trail. Little to no fellow visitors also meant Cassie could be off-leash! It was a surprisingly beautiful fall day. Sunlight filtered through the dense canopy with an occasional picturesque sunburst. The changing colors of maple and alder trees contrasted beautifully with the vibrant green of the Douglas fir, hemlock, and cedar trees, as well as the variety of ferns carpeting the forest floor. The trail remains close to the river for the first couple of miles. With practically no one else on the trail, the only sounds that filled the air were of rushing water, the rustling of leaves when a breeze passed through, and a few chatty birds.

After passing the wilderness boundary and the first two backcountry camp areas, we began the gradual climb up to the highlight of the trail: the Salmon River Gorge viewpoint. The river roars through the canyon a few hundred feet below this open, rocky bluff. The hillsides are completely draped in dense forest, so the river itself is actually difficult to see, but you can still hear it if you listen closely. Following the viewpoint, we continued along a narrow, very exposed (but brief) section of trail etched into a steep slope that led us back into the shade of the forest.

Stretch of trail after the viewpoint
Looking back at the viewpoint area

While planning our route, one of the side trip opportunities that came up during my research of the area was Frustration Falls. From the trip reports I’d read, I knew to keep an eye out for a steep side trail about four miles in. It also helped that I came out to run some of the Salmon River Trail with a friend just two days earlier. Although we didn’t follow it down, we did find the aforementioned side trail. I might’ve missed it on our trip if I hadn’t scouted it out a couple of days earlier! Although the side trail is short (about a quarter of a mile down to the view of the falls), it’s quite steep and slick. I imagine it can be treacherous after heavy rain. We stashed our packs about half way down as the incline steepened. Despite the tediousness of it all, the stunning three-tiered Frustration Falls was definitely worth the effort.

Frustration Falls

Back on the main trail, we were just a mile or so away from our campsite. It was a slow mile though. The fall colors were irresistible and I found myself pulling out my camera every couple of minutes. Before we knew it Goat Creek was right below us and we could look across the way and see the nearby campsites. Not a single tent was in sight. Our decision to do a mid-week overnighter was certainly paying off!

Goat Creek

It was already late afternoon and about to become early evening by the time we set up camp. We went about enjoying some hot drinks first. Mack packed in a small Nalgene containing butterscotch schnapps to add to our hot cider. The combination literally tastes like caramel apples and is probably my new favorite hot drink (although it might get bumped once I try hot cocoa with peppermint schnapps this winter). To celebrate Halloween, we also packed in frosted pumpkin shortbread cookies and a giant bag of mixed sour candies (Mack’s preferred treat). Cassie chose to hang out inside the new tent (that’s right! no more busted zippers and patched up holes!) and curl up on my sleeping bag. Not even the smell of our delicious Halloween treats could lure her out.

Hogging my sleeping bag even though her personal dog bed is right behind her

It started to get dark quickly, so we attached and staked down the rainfly, cooked up a batch of instant mashed potatoes (and one more round of spiked cider), finished up our treats, then crawled into our sleeping bags. Our new Big Agnes tent has sewn-in lights, so we tested them out. So much better than using our headlamps or flashlights! Hopefully this tent lasts us awhile because so far we love it! We capped off our Halloween themed trip with a “scary” movie. I say “scary” because I’m not sure Donnie Darko really fits this description, but neither of us was really in the mood for some slasher flick or even a supernatural one while we were alone in the woods. Maybe Hocus Pocus will be a more fun choice next year.

Pumpkin shortbread cookies!
Watching Donnie Darko beneath the tent lights

 

Day 2: Goat Creek to Salmon River West Trailhead (5 miles; 2 hours 20 minutes, breaks included)

It was strange waking up and knowing that we’d be going back to work later that afternoon. However, it was also a good incentive to actually get up and get moving quickly. We were packed up and on the trail by 8 am. The sky was still overcast, which made the fall colors along the trail pop even more. It also made the Salmon River Gorge viewpoint far more clear, richer in color, and photogenic now that the heavy sunlight wasn’t blinding me and washing out the image. I was so happy to pass through this section again and see it all in the (far superior) early morning light with the sun barely starting to creep through the clouds.

Trail leading to the viewpoint

Looking out on the Salmon River Gorge

After the mini-photoshoot at the viewpoint, we pressed on to make sure we would make it back to the car before 11 am. Now that we were going downhill our pace was effortlessly faster though. I even managed to find opportunities to take a few more photos (especially now that everything was less washed out by the sun) without adversely affecting our estimated arrival time. We made it back to the car at 10:20 am and even had time to spare at home before either of us went in to teach that afternoon. Despite being a little reluctant to go back to work for a couple more days, our first ever mid-week overnight adventure was just what I needed to get me through the rest of the work week. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to do something like this. At least we’ll be able to count on it for next Halloween!

Playing in the leaves

Salmon River

 

Cape Horn Loop

  • Date: October 28, 2017
  • Location: Columbia River Gorge
  • Start: Cape Horn Trailhead
  • Distance: 7.7 miles
  • Duration: 3 hours 50 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 1300 feet
  • Type: Loop
  • Map: Green Trails Map 428S: Columbia River Gorge-West
  • References: 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Portland by Paul Gerald; Washington Trails Association

Since getting more into trail running this past year, day hiking has become less and less common for us. However, with our last race of the season coming up the following weekend and a busy weekend of work events preventing us from doing anything too long, strenuous, or far from home, we decided to head out to Cape Horn with Cassie to make the most of the surprisingly nice fall weather forecast.

The trailhead was packed and we ended up parking a short ways up the road since the lot was full. With so many closures on the Oregon side due to the damage caused by the wildfire, I imagine Cape Horn is now more popular than ever. Despite seeing numerous groups as we started out, we still managed to find some solitude every now and then. The first part of our hike (we started with the upper section) had us climbing switchbacks through a forest bursting with fall colors. I actually completed this hike the previous year with a few friends (no Mack, but Cassie was with me). We went in late November after Thanksgiving, so the fall brilliance had come and gone. It was nice to come back at the height of it all.

After just over a mile we were rewarded with our first view overlooking the gorge at Pioneer Point. Patches of golden orange dotted the usually green landscape as we looked east toward Hamilton Mountain and Beacon Rock. Even the Oregon side looked stunning. From a distance (and with the sun shining so brightly), the scorched land wasn’t as evident. The trail dropped down soon after and met up with an old wagon road so heavily blanketed in fallen leaves that I could hardly see my boots as we walked through.

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View from Pioneer Point

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Idyllic fall setting

After crossing Strunk Road, we continued onto a gravel lane surrounded by green fields and a few houses. A short, pleasant countryside amble before ducking back into the forest. We reached the Nancy Russell Overlook (named for the founder of Friends of the Columbia Gorge), characterized by a beautiful stone amphitheater and a sprawling view of the gorge. I feel a little silly that I didn’t take a picture to include for this post, but it was incredibly crowded and we didn’t stick around very long. We headed back into the peace and quiet of the forest, basking in the increasingly vibrant fall colors. The trail descends down to Hwy 14 and (to avoid having hikers risk becoming roadkill) crosses it by way of a tunnel beneath the road.

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It looks like she’s playing with the leaves, but she’s actually eating her favorite jerky

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The views became more abundant on this half of the hike now that we were on the lower section and switchbacking down alongside the cliff. We passed several vistas along the way that offered expansive views of the river, as well as lonesome Phoca Rock and the strange basalt column, Cigar Rock. This section did have it’s downsides though. The wind was incredibly strong, making it difficult to take any sort of break at the viewpoints we came across. In addition, now that it was getting into the afternoon, there were a lot more people on the trail, some of whom weren’t so great about practicing basic trail etiquette. My penchant for picture taking often times meant we just let people pass us until we were left alone, garnering us a few more moments of solitude.

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Cigar Rock
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Walking along one of the talus slopes with a view of a waterfall (not sure if it’s Cape Horn Falls)

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I was especially happy to experience solitude when we arrived at the wooden footbridge in front of Cape Horn Falls. With no one around, we were able to take the short side trail up to the falls and have the spot all to ourselves for a few minutes. The falls weren’t anything spectacular (at least when we were there). They were more of a trickle really. Being in an isolated spot away from the increasing foot traffic (with a nice view of the footbridge down below and the river beyond that) was the primary appeal. After crossing the bridge, we began a steeper descent to the end of the trail, where we were spit out onto Cape Horn Road.

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Cape Horn Falls

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Bridge in front of the falls

The final 1.3-mile uphill stretch was all on road (save for a very brief section of trail right before the parking lot). Thankfully, we still had some lovely views along the way combining the steep forested hillsides and basalt cliffs that characterize the gorge with the simplicity of the countryside-esque properties that we passed along the road. All in all it was a morning (and partial afternoon) well spent and a lovely return to our original adventure of choice, day hiking.

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