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

 

 

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

 

Clackamas River Trail

  • Date: March 5, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood National Forest
  • Start: Fish Creek Trailhead
  • Distance: 15.4 miles (when done as an out-and-back and including Pup Creek Falls side trip)
  • Duration: 3 hours 46 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 3100 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

Finding new places to explore while simultaneously getting in long miles has been difficult this winter, especially with the amount of snow on the ground at higher elevations. We toughed out the conditions on the Ornament Trail and at Smith Rock, but now that we’re trying to increase our mileages to 15+ on our weekend runs, we’re kind of leaning towards snow-free trails to train on. Thankfully, the Clackamas River Trail fit the bill: we’d never hiked/run it before; the trailhead is open and easily accessible (even during winter months); and, after searching recent trip reports, the trail appeared to be free of snow!

We arrived at the trailhead just after 8:30 am. The parking lot was completely deserted, which meant we’d have the trail all to ourselves that morning. Yes! Long, solitary runs in the wilderness have really become our favorite type of weekend adventure these past few months. At 15+ miles, this would be our longest adventure run yet. Knowing that unsettled me a little bit. The fact that we couldn’t complete the Arch Cape route the previous weekend due to me spraining my ankle was still eating at me. I was nervous that something would cause us to cut out early from this run as well, but I did my best to suppress my paranoia once we hit the trail.

Last weekend it was tree roots. This time it was rocks. So much for a cushiony soft surface trail. We started out low, next to the river, looking out at faraway hillsides dusted with snow. However, within the first five minutes, we found ourselves gaining some serious elevation, made all the more difficult by the unforgiving rocky terrain and several downed trees. Cassie has gotten quite comfortable effortlessly hopping over these blowdowns even while she’s on leash. I wish it was that easy for us. Nonetheless, we enjoyed the solitude. We only saw one other person: a trail runner who passed us early on, then passed us again on his way back to the trailhead.

View of the Clackamas River
There were numerous blowdowns
Zip line platform
Traversing a rockslide area

Despite the aforementioned challenges, we entered my favorite section of the entire trail less than three miles in. After a couple more roller coaster-like hills, the trail drops into an old-growth cedar grove. Ancient trees draped in moss tower high above the path, and the forest floor is covered in a lush blanket of sword fern and Oregon grape. It brought back memories of our time spent in the Hoh Rainforest nearly a year ago. For a few moments, the initial fears (about not finishing, making my ankle injury worse, etc.) that had been plaguing me washed away as I stood in wonderment of this little known paradise. Our stay here was brief though. We still had 4-5 miles to go until Indian Henry Trailhead (and then another 7.5 miles once we turned around and headed back).

My favorite section

Our goal was to keep moving until the junction with the Pup Creek Falls side trail, but we ended up pausing for pictures at a few more spots. The creek crossings pictured below were particularly interesting and worth capturing in my opinion.  We especially loved the humorously massive stepping stones placed on Steppingstone Creek! Cassie was a bit confused about how to rock hop. I got a kick out of watching Mack try to guide her across.

Crossing Steppingstone Creek on stepping stones!

Just under four miles in, we reached the marked post that designates the side trail to Pup Creek Falls. We followed this short path back into the woods, switchbacking up, then dropping down to Pup Creek so we could take in the full scope of the majestic, two-tiered waterfall before us. At less than half a mile round-trip from the main trail, this is definitely a worthwhile side trip to make when hiking the Clackamas River Trail. After getting back on the main trail, we reached Pup Creek where it intersects the CRT. There was no means of crossing (bridge, stepping stones, dependable log) that would guarantee us staying dry, so we tromped right through it. Unlike our hiking boots, our trail runners thankfully air out relatively fast, so the heavy amount of (very cold) water didn’t slosh around in them for too long. Of course our feet were soaked and soggy for the rest of the run.

Pup Creek Falls
Crossing Pup Creek
Washed out trail right after crossing Pup Creek

We didn’t stop very much after the Pup Creek Falls side trip. My anxiety was starting to kick in again, especially after I looked at my watch and realized how much time had gone by already because of our previous photo op breaks. Over the next four miles, we only paused a couple more times to capture the main highlights. First came the Narrows, where the Clackamas flows through a constricted passage between large, basalt formations. A spur trail leads out to one of these protruding formations. If we had done this trail as a hike and packed a lunch, this would’ve been a fantastic spot to stop. The view of the river is phenomenal!

Closer to the end of the trail, we marveled at another fascinating geological formation known as Half Cave, a moss covered cliff where the trail is etched beneath the overhang. If there had been a waterfall plunging down from the top of the cliff, it would’ve seemed just like the caves you walk through at Silver Falls State Park (which take you behind some of the falls). The trail continued into the forest. The sound of cars rushing by on the paved road below us meant we were almost to the trailhead. After a few more ups and downs through the forest, the trail spit us out directly into the parking lot. A wave of relief rushed over me when I saw the signboard for Indian Henry Trailhead and realized we’d traversed the entire CRT. There was no way we could back out now!

Looking out over the Narrows

Half Cave

We stopped for a few minutes to eat a snack, get some electrolytes in us, and hydrate and feed Cassie. In that moment, another realization hit me: this would be Cassie’s longest run ever! So far she was crushing it, too. The run back seemed to go by much more quickly. I stopped every once in a while to take a few more pictures of the section between Pup Creek and Indian Henry Trailhead this time around. I also had Mack and Cassie run ahead of me so I could carefully navigate some of the more technical terrain and protect my weak, still tender ankle. The rolling hills were a lot more tiring on the return. I’d made the effort to run as many as I could on the way in, but now that I’d logged 42+ miles at this point (that’s including the miles I’d done earlier in the week), I didn’t feel guilty power hiking most of them. My quads were shot. I watched enviously as Mack (who had run about the same number of miles as me) continue strong up most of the hills.

Swampy section

We experienced a little bit of rain and hail on the return trip, but it passed quickly and the sun came out in full force. The emerald green hue of the Clackamas shone brighter than ever, which made a nice distraction from the roughness of the trail. It wasn’t until we passed Pup Creek that I remembered how rocky the first three miles are. We passed a few people on the trail now that it was early in the afternoon, but I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t see more. I imagine it probably gets a lot more crowded in the summer, but at the same time, I hadn’t even heard of the CRT until a couple of weeks ago. Maybe it’s more of a hidden gem, secretly tucked away in the expansive Mount Hood National Forest.

We got back to the car feeling elated that we’d successfully completed our longest adventure run yet. Finishing this run was especially meaningful to me after the previous weekend’s failed attempt at the coast. I had now logged the most miles I’d ever run in a single week! What a perfect way to end the week and the season for winter adventure runs. Hopefully we’ll be able to log even more trail running miles in the wilderness once all this snow melts!