White River Canyon-Boy Scout Ridge

  • Date: January 15, 2017
  • Location: Mount Hood
  • Start: White River West Sno Park
  • Distance: 5 miles (but we only did 4)
  • Duration: 3 hours 30 minutes (breaks included)
  • Elevation gain: 1800 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

After being cooped up in the house the previous weekend, Mack and I couldn’t wait to get out this past weekend. We’ve gotten so used to doing something outside nearly every Saturday and/or Sunday these past few months that it’s hard to skip even one weekend! Even though Portland got dumped with a foot of snow during the week, the freeways were basically clear by the weekend and the weather was shaping up to perfect. We left before sunrise on Sunday morning so we could take our time driving out of the metro area. It was a white-knuckle drive until we reached Mount Hood Highway, where road conditions improved significantly. We arrived at the sno park just after 9 am. The sun was shining and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

A race course was being set up and marked when we arrived, so we decided to get a move on, hoping to make it further into our route as to not get caught up in the inevitable crowd. (The event, for those interested, was this one: http://www.xdogevents.com/whiteriver.html) However, as we started to near the ridge, my eyes kept glancing at the White River below, winding its way through untouched powder. It was too enticing. I convinced Mack to descend into the canyon so we could follow the river a little ways before heading back up. It was incredibly peaceful, especially since it deviated from the route that most people take. I kind of wish we’d continued along the river the entire way, but at the time, I thought it would be more sensible to stick to the route we’d already planned. By the time we made it out of the canyon, the snowshoe race/walk had begun and a throng of people were making their way up the same path.


Here they come!

Although the event looked like fun, as a bystander seeking some degree of solitude, it was a bit frustrating. In addition, Cassie is not a fan of large groups of people and refused to keep moving at times, making our progress even slower. We were able to cut our own path through the snow (parallel to the race course) after making it up the hill and into the trees. The turnaround point for the race came shortly after that. Phew! We breathed a sigh of relief when we realized the rest of our hike would not look like a giant ant trail. As we continued through this sparsely forested section, we only encountered one other group (of XC skiers). Finally some peace and quiet.

Solitude at last

As we exited the forest, the path skirted the edge of the slope leading into the canyon. The river was now quite a ways below us and Mount Hood stood before us, majestic as always, completely unobscured. What a beautiful day to be outside. I was so happy we’d decided to hold off on our original plan to snowshoe to Tamanawas Falls, which wouldn’t have offered the expansive views we were getting now.


The final stretch to the upper viewpoint was a steep, but thankfully short, climb. While taking pictures of Mack and Cassie making their way up, I got distracted and forgot to activate the heel lifts on my snowshoes. Mack pointed this out once I caught up about 3/4 of the way up the hill. Oops. Even with the heel lifts, the hill was still tough to tackle. I just felt so clumsy walking in snowshoes! Changing direction on the switchbacks was an ordeal. At one point, we even tried front pointing to safely ascend the steepest section. Definitely wasn’t very effective in snowshoes. I thought about taking them off, but we were almost to the top and I didn’t have a means of strapping them to my pack anyway. I guess Mack and I need to work on our footwork.

The hill


When we reached the top, we were greeted by a relatively flat, mildly forested viewpoint. A perfect spot to stop and relax (and for future snow camping!). Cassie appeared pretty exhausted at this point. With the sun shining down on us the entire hike, I imagine she was maybe a little toasty, too. We gave her some water and treats before she plopped down in the snow and closed her eyes. The final viewpoint was still about a half mile up along the ridge, but we decided to turnaround at our current spot, especially since downclimbing the steep slope we’d just ascended was probably going to be slow. We rested a few minutes longer and took in the gorgeous view of Mount Hood from our snowy perch before getting up (also a struggle in snowshoes) and beginning the descent.


Looking out at the continuing path along Boy Scout Ridge
Mount Jefferson


As anticipated, it took quite awhile to get down the hill. We were able to switchback some of it, but I ended up feeling more comfortable front pointing down. An ice axe would’ve been super helpful. It was difficult with Cassie on her leash, so we ended up just letting her go (leash still attached in case we needed to grab her) so she could descend at her own pace. She usually sat down and waited between us while we took our time climbing down. When we were closer to the bottom, I was able to plunge step the rest of the way. Mack tried glissading, but he kept getting stuck in the snow. It was still fun to watch him try, and Cassie seemed amused as she attempted to run beside him.


Mack trying to glissade

The number of people on the trail had definitely picked up now that it was after noon. We passed several groups of four or more as we descended the ridge back to the sno park. The last half mile or so was filled with people skiing, snowboarding, and sledding. There was even a group or two that appeared to be practicing their snow shelter building skills. Thank goodness we hadn’t started our trek this late in the day! We arrived back at the now very crowded parking lot feeling content with our morning adventure. Our third time snowshoeing was definitely one for the books. Next time we’re out in this particular spot we’ll have to try snow camping!


View of the canyon from the ridge

Tillamook Head Traverse

  • Date: December 18, 2016
  • Location: Ecola State Park
  • Start: Tillamook Head Trailhead
  • Distance: 11.05 miles
  • Duration: 2 hours 49 minutes (breaks not included)
  • Elevation gain: 2234 feet
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Oregon Hikers

“Oh the weather outside is frightful…” Seriously though. The recent onslaught of winter weather here in Portland had us reconsidering our planned beach weekend, primarily due to the inevitably sketchy road conditions we’d encounter on the drive there. Not wanting to miss out on our next adventure run opportunity though, especially after our successful run to Opal Pool and Cedar Flats a few weekends back, we packed up the Crosstrek (which had fared very well on snowy and icy roads around Mount Hood the previous weekend) and headed out Saturday morning. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon at the Gearhart beach house, carbo-loading via Angelina’s pizza (Best. Pizza. Ever.), and awoke early on Sunday to begin our run.

With the exception of driving to Forest Park trails in Portland, the commute from Gearhart to the Tillamook Head Trailhead in Seaside was probably the shortest drive (10 minutes) to a hiking/running destination that I’ve ever had to do! We started up the trail around 9:45 am. The four miles to the main viewpoint are mostly uphill through a lush forest (reminiscent of Neahkahnie Mountain, also on the coast). As a hike, this would’ve been pretty moderate for us, but as a run, it kicked our asses. The trail conditions made it more difficult, too. Recent subfreezing temps had frozen much of the uneven, muddy surface. Instead of soft and squishy, it was like running through a sea of potholes. With numerous roots and deadfall thrown into the mix, it turned out to be quite the obstacle course. My ankles were definitely feeling pretty sore and sensitive by the end of it. On the upside, the weather was surprisingly sunny. Rays of light streaming through trees is one of my favorite simple pleasures in life. I got to experience it quite often on this day.

Trailhead in Seaside

The trail eventually plateaued for a stretch and we were rewarded with ocean views as the route snakes along the edge of a cliff. The pothole-ish terrain continued to slow our pace, but every so often we got to run on sections of boardwalk. The planks were icy, but it was still easier than running through ankle-deep holes. After a few more ups and downs, the trail switchbacks down to the log shelters of Hiker’s Camp, a sign that we were very close to the prime viewpoint. We stopped to admire the camp and peer inside the shelters. Just beyond the camp, the trail intersects a gravel road. Heading to the right would take us to the viewpoint. Of course, just as we were getting ready to make our way down , Cassie darted back into the forest, off-trail, to chase a squirrel. She’d been so well-behaved up until that point! I spent about 10 minutes bushwhacking through ferns, downed trees, and various shrubs (praying that I wasn’t exposing myself to anything poisonous!) to retrieve her. She remained on-leash for a good portion of our run after that little fiasco.

After scolding Cassie, we followed the road (1/8 mile according to the sign at the junction) to a clearing at the edge of a cliff. Although we’d just taken a break at Hiker’s Camp, we paused here for a few minutes to soak in views of the Pacific, the deserted Tillamook Rock Lighthouse (aka “Terrible Tilly”), forested cliffsides, and a secluded cove below us. I’m constantly amazed at the variety of natural beauty we encounter so close to our home in Portland. Last weekend we were playing in the snow on the northeast flank of Mount Hood. This day we were exploring the coastline, trading that sea of white for various hues of blue. I may not be a beach person, but I sure can appreciate the magnificence of the ocean.

We ran back up to the junction and considered our options for the final stretch to Indian Beach, our turnaround point. Both the gravel road that lay before us and the continuation of the Tillamook Head Trail to our right led to our destination. Although the gravel road route is shorter and (probably) far less technical, we opted to continue on the trail, which hugs the cliffside and offers more views of the ocean. It was all downhill to the beach parking lot, and the trail ended up being a lot less technical than our initial four miles. Upon exiting the forest, we had a spectacular view of Indian Beach. A few years ago, when I first moved to Portland, Mack and I spent a summer afternoon exploring this little beach. Although we didn’t walk down to it this time around, seeing it again brought back some lovely memories.

After all that easygoing downhill, it was time for another calf-burning ascent. The incline here is (or at least felt) a lot less gradual than the beginning of the route in Seaside. We alternated between running and hiking until we reached Hiker’s Camp. The trail continues to gain elevation after the camp though. I let Cassie off-leash again once we reached the switchbacks. Running is a whole lot easier when she’s not pulling me over technical terrain, and I was able to keep a more steady pace this time. When we finally reached the plateau, I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we’d soon be heading downhill the rest of the way. The last couple of miles went by quickly. Although we weren’t able to fly down those hills because of the aforementioned obstacles, we still had a strong finish as we rounded the final corners and passed beneath the archway that marks the trailhead. We snapped a fun finish line selfie (making sure to include that cool archway in the background) before piling our muddy selves into the car and heading back to Gearhart for our reward: leftover Angelina’s pizza.



Mount Adams

  • Date: August 20-21, 2016
  • Start: Cold Springs Campground
  • Distance: 12.4 miles
  • Duration: 2 days
  • Type: Out-and-back
  • References: Best Climbs: Cascade Volcanoes by Jeff Smoot; Washington Trails Association

This summer has been a busy one for outdoor adventures. Back in June, we participated in a week-long mountaineering course, successfully summiting Mount Baker during that time. In July, we climbed Mount Hood and backpacked Goat Rocks Wilderness. And at the beginning of August, we backpacked Garibaldi Provincial Park. Time in between was generally spent planning for the next upcoming trip. After our time in British Columbia, we decided that maybe it would be best to take a break, especially since we have one last backpacking trip coming up Labor Day weekend. Then, as I began writing about our Garibaldi adventure, as well as looking back on all we’d already accomplished since the end of June, the idea of “taking a break” seemed ridiculous. If we have the opportunity to get outside, why not take it? So, just one week after returning from British Columbia, we decided to tackle our third Cascade volcano for the summer.


Day 1: Cold Springs Campground to Lunch Counter (3.7 miles; 3 hours 8 minutes, breaks not included)

We decided to do a two-day climb of the mountain by base camping at Lunch Counter. Although there are climbers that complete the entire route from Cold Springs Campground without overnighting somewhere on the mountain, I think many choose the former in order to acclimate before the summit push.

The South Climb Trail #183 starts out in a burn zone, so from the get-go we were exposed to the sun. It was a warm day with temps somewhere in the 80s and we were hiking up in our mountaineering boots. Not the most comfortable idea, but it seemed better than carrying the heavy boots on our backs. The trail becomes less obvious, less stable (i.e. lots of loose rock), and steeper after Morrison Creek. Since we’d started relatively early, there were only a couple of other people on this section. By the afternoon, traffic is heavier and there’s usually a line of people leading up to the ridgeline and the edge of the snowfield. I hiked up to Lunch Counter last summer in these exact conditions. It was not pleasant. Thankfully, we were able to avoid this. It made the going much faster and less miserable. The final leg on the snowfield leading to Lunch Counter was a welcome change after traversing over loose rock the last hour.

Looking out at Mount Hood during a snack break

Final stretch to Lunch Counter!

We reached Lunch Counter in the early afternoon. At this point, the majority of Friday-Saturday climbers were making their way back to the trailhead, so we had our pick of sites. In retrospect, we probably could’ve chosen a site closer to the south slope, but we were anxious to set up and get out of the sun for awhile, so we pitched our tent in the first decent spot we came across. While Mack rested in the tent, I walked around Lunch Counter and scoped out the route for the next morning. I reminisced about the short time I’d spent here last summer while dayhiking with a group of women. Climbing the Cascade volcanoes was still a distant dream then, and that realization made me appreciate even more the fact that we were getting ready to climb our fourth the next morning. It’s incredible the things that can change in a year.

Campsite at Lunch Counter

Mack taking a well deserved nap

We spent the rest of the afternoon napping, snacking, and melting bag after quart-size bag of snow since we couldn’t find a decent water source. We decided on a 3 am alpine start and turned-in early. Unfortunately, my afternoon snooze had left me well rested and I was no longer sleepy. I stuck my head out of the tent to enjoy the sunset and gaze out at the majestic silhouettes of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens in the distance. I thought back on sunsets on Mount Baker, as well as sunrises on Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens, all of them breathtaking. How fortunate I am to be making these kinds of memories.

Scooping snow to melt for water

Melting snow
Mount Hood at sunset
Mount St Helens at sunset


Day 2: Lunch Counter to Mount Adams summit, then back (5 miles; 5 hours 57 minutes, breaks not included); Lunch Counter to Cold Springs Campground (3.7 miles; 3 hours 18 minutes, breaks not included)

We were ready to go just before 3 am, but when we unzipped our tent and scanned for signs of life, we didn’t spot a single headlamp. We opted for a few more minutes of shut-eye and ended up departing around 3:45 am instead. We made our way across the rocky plateau and donned our crampons once we reached the slope. The snow was firm and easy to walk on with the crampon spikes biting into it. The trek to Piker’s Peak from Lunch Counter gains a brutal 2000 ft (although I still prefer it to the dusty, rock ridden approach to Lunch Counter). We took it slowly, setting goals of 50 to 100 steps at a time. Every time I looked back and saw the tents dotting the plateau becoming tinier and tinier, I pushed a little bit harder, knowing that the false summit (and, therefore, the true summit) was close at hand. We reached Piker’s Peak just after 6 am. The sun had just risen and we could see the final boot path leading up to the summit. Although we hadn’t felt the forecasted 30 to 40 mph winds on the way up the slope, we definitely felt it at Piker’s Peak and took cover behind a rock wall in an attempt to stay warm while we ate a few snacks and hydrated. Neither of us could feel our fingers after a few minutes, so we packed up and hit the trail for the final stretch. Just 800 ft of gain to go!

Quick break at Piker’s Peak
Boot path heading towards the true summit

The last portion was a cakewalk compared to the push to Piker’s Peak. One saddle, one ridgeline, one last snowfield, and you’re there! Less than an hour after reaching the false summit, we were standing on the true summit, looking out towards Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Mount Jefferson. At 12, 276 ft, Mack and I were standing on the highest point either of us has ever reached by foot. The sun was shining, skies were blue, the wind was merely a breeze at this point, and there were only three other people on the summit. It was a peacefully exciting moment and the perfect end to our very first climbing season.

Old lookout building

Mount Rainier

Another empty, peaceful summit

Mount Hood
Descending to Lunch Counter while most people are just heading up

Garibaldi Provincial Park

  • Date: August 7-10, 2016
  • Start: Diamond Head Trailhead (for Elfin Lakes); Rubble Creek Trailhead (for Garibaldi Lake)
  • Distance: 64.6 km
  • Duration: 4 days
  • Type: Out-and-back (for both)
  • Map: Clark Geomatics: Garibaldi Park
  • References: The Outbound (Elfin Lakes); The Outbound (Garibaldi Lake)

Mack and I have wanted to take an international trip together for some time now, and since getting into backpacking last year, my goal has been to combine the two. Some of the initial places I looked into were Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Fiordland in New Zealand, the Dolomites in Italy, and the Alps in Switzerland. Quite ambitious (at least logistically and financially) for a first international backpacking trip. I soon gave up on these ideas after realizing it would require too much of us (i.e. time and money) for the time being. Now, I’m not sure why or when, but I somehow ended up researching parks in Canada (probably after seeing some pictures in Backpacker Magazine or a similar online source). After looking into several different options (including Banff National Park, Jasper National Park, and Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park), I settled on Garibaldi Provincial Park. It’s conveniently located an hour and a half north of Vancouver, B.C. and would give Mack and me a chance to do some international travel without the stress of flying with all of our gear. Plus, the area is drop-dead gorgeous!

Our trip took us through two of the most stunning places in the entire park: Elfin Lakes and Garibaldi Lake. The latter we used as a base camp to explore other nearby areas, too. Alpine lakes and wildflower meadows, as well as breathtaking mountain scenery, encompassed each day on the trail. Although we ended up getting stuck in a string of less-than-ideal weather days, we were still able to experience so much of the incredible natural beauty that Garibaldi has to offer. We can’t wait to return to explore more of British Columbia and other parks in the Great White North.

Looking out on Garibaldi Lake


Day 1: Diamond Head Trailhead to Elfin Lakes (11.1 km; 2 hours 27 minutes, breaks not included)

Giant, splotchy raindrops pounded the windshield as we drove the Sea to Sky Highway (BC-99) to the Diamond Head parking lot. They would cease, then start again, cease, than start again. The weather was not looking too optimistic and I anticipated a potentially wet, miserable hike up. Fortunately, the rain subsided altogether once we reached the trailhead, although the skies remained grey and overcast. We’d had time the day before and that morning to organize our gear at the hostel in Vancouver, so everything was ready to go once we parked the car. There was only one thing left to do: practice drawing the Counter Assault from the holster on my pack strap. For the first time ever, Mack and I were taking bear spray on a backpacking trip. Although we weren’t likely to see one, British Columbia is home to a high population of black bears. Better safe than sorry. After several repetitions, as well as readjustments to increase the speed of my draw, I re-secured the spray and we set off up the trail.

The first 5.1 km stretch was entirely uphill—mostly gradual, but steep in some sections—on a forest service road. Once we reached Red Heather Shelter, the remaining 6 km to Elfin Lakes was on soft surface trail (at least for the most part). We were high enough in elevation at this point that we were walking through alpine meadows instead of forest. We would’ve had incredible views of the surrounding mountains, too, if it hadn’t been for the cloudy weather. Ugh. Not a single ray of sunshine! At least it wasn’t raining. We saw a lot of people in the last 3 or so km on Paul Ridge, probably heading back after a weekend at the lakes. The descent into the Elfin Lakes basin, though not as breathtaking as I’d imagined since the clouds obscured the mountainous backdrop, was still quite a sight. In fact, the overcast weather lent a mystical quality to the lakes that I don’t think would’ve occurred had the skies been clear and sunny.

Red Heather Shelter

Hiking along Paul Ridge
Elfin Lakes
First lake (bigger of the two)

For being a backcountry site, it sure felt a lot like “glamping” (or at least our version of it). All tent sites are on raised, wooden platforms to protect the fragile meadow from too much impact. There is a pit toilet with rolls of toilet paper. There are outdoor picnic tables, a day/cooking shelter, and bear cache hangers for storing food at night. Wow! The bear canisters we brought were probably not necessary. We ultimately hoisted them up anyways (in trash bags) so we could also throw in other scented items that didn’t fit in the canister. The weather continued to become worse as the afternoon wore on. Eventually you couldn’t even see the lakes or the meadows. We were lucky we arrived early enough to get a glimpse. By evening it was pouring down rain. Thank goodness for that cooking shelter! We were able to take our time making dinner in a dry, comfortable environment rather than outside in the cold and wet—such “fond” memories of the Hoh River Trail. I hoped that the next day would bring better weather.

Day/cooking shelter and bear cache hangers
Second lake
Campsite at Elfin Lakes

View from our platform

Elfin Lakes Shelter
Another view of the second lake
Cooking pasta


Day 2: Elfin Lakes to Diamond Head Trailhead (11.1 km; 2 hours 22 minutes, breaks not included); Rubble Creek Trailhead to Garibaldi Lake (8.7 km; 2 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)

When I awoke around 5 am and opened my tent door, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the skies had cleared up a little bit and the mountains were more visible than they had been the day before. We packed up quickly and left camp around 6 am. Our plan was to get to the Rubble Creek Trailhead by or before 10 am to ensure we’d be able to park in the lot (which, according to the BC parks website, usually fills by 8 am). On our way down, the sun shone through the clouds and the mountains that we’d missed the day before were actually peeking through. At least we didn’t miss out completely! We got back to the car just before 9 am and headed out to the next trailhead, less than an hour away.

Bear cache hangers; my bag is the black trash bag on the far right
Final view of the lakes (with improved views of the surrounding mountains)

Looking back on Paul Ridge

Although very crowded, there were still a number of parking spots available when we arrived at Rubble Creek Trailhead. Maybe it only fills up crazy fast on weekends? We came on a Monday. We threw on our packs and joined the throngs of other hikers heading up. Now, I’m not sure if the elevation gain was really that strenuous (800 m in 8.7 km) or we were just really tired from already having hiked 11.1 km that morning, but the trek up to Garibaldi Lake was an ass-kicker, physically and mentally. Although the trail never got ridiculously steep, the seemingly endless switchbacks and consistent incline wore us down fast. After 6 km the trail finally leveled out in some sections and we were rewarded with views of Barrier Lake and Lesser Garibaldi Lake, openers to the main attraction. The final 2 km seemed to go on forever, but when the lake finally came into view, all that exhaustion seemed to melt away.

The clear, turquoise water had us mesmerized and we dropped our packs at nearby picnic tables to take in the glorious sight before us. After catching our breath and taking in the views, we explored the campground, which, at 50 tent sites compared to Elfin Lakes’ 14 sites, is pretty big. We arrived early enough that most of the sites were empty. We found one we liked, set up our tent, then headed over to the nearest day/cooking shelter—just like the ones at Elfin Lakes—to enjoy a late lunch. Mack rescued a little bird inside that was trying to break its way through the plexiglass windows. Poor thing!

There were several bear warnings posted, asking campers not to cook or eat at their campsite and to keep all food/trash/scented items in the shelters. I found out a little later that a young black bear had to be killed the day before we arrived because people were eating and cooking in their campsites; storing food in their tents; leaving trash everywhere and it wandered into them. Not to get off course from our time at Garibaldi, but I found this blog post (specifically about the bear that was killed) to hit home on the severity of our actions when it comes to bear safety: https://happiestoutdoors.ca/you-killed-a-bear/. It’s so important to remember that we are only visitors in these wild places.

Barrier Lake
First view of Garibaldi Lake

Enjoying hot cocoa by the lake
Campsite at Garibaldi Lake Campground

Following our late lunch it started to rain, so we retreated to the tent for a few hours. When we emerged for dinner in the evening, the weather had improved, so we decided to go for a short jaunt along the lake after we ate. I’m so glad we did! Although it was still misting, the sky had cleared tremendously and we could finally take in the surroundings that had been obscured by clouds when we arrived earlier. We explored the Battleship Islands (lava outcrops which have been connected to the shore via man-made stone causeways) and enjoyed views of Mount Price and Clinker Peak, Sphinx Glacier, and Black Tusk. A perfect end to a hard day.

View of the mountains in the evening
Mount Price and Clinker Peak
Mack hanging out on one of the Battleship Islands

Looking out at Sphinx Glacier

More of the islands
Selfie taken on one of the islands
View of Black Tusk to the north


Day 3: Garibaldi Lake to Black Tusk, then back (11 km round-trip; 3 hours 36 minutes, breaks not included)

Our initial goal for the day was to hike to both Black Tusk and Panorama Ridge so we could get back to Vancouver in the early afternoon the next day. It was awfully cloudy when we started off at 8:30 am, so we decided to begin with Black Tusk—Panorama Ridge was the hike I was most looking forward to, so I wanted to give the weather a fighting chance. The initial switchbacks uphill through the forest changed quickly into the wildflowers of Black Tusk Meadows. We were the only ones on the trail and the morning mist blanketing the meadows made it an eerily peaceful hike. The trail took us over a few creeks (Parnasus and Mimulus Creeks respectively), a snowfield, and finally to the scorched black rocks comprising the steep slope leading up to Black Tusk. According to our map, the peak is a remnant of a large volcano that has mostly eroded away. The native people of the area knew it as nq’il’qtens ku skenknap or “seat of thunder,” the home of the mythological thunderbird. The clouds were heavy at the top, making it impossible to see how far we were supposed to ascend. The rock formation was nowhere in sight and all I kept thinking was, “Is this scree climb even worth it?” After 20 or so minutes, we concluded it wasn’t and headed back down. Sigh. Another viewpoint squandered by crappy weather. Panorama Ridge was definitely going to have to wait until the next day.

Turnaround point on Black Tusk

On our way down, the morning mist was dissipating and we had even more expansive views of the gorgeous meadows we’d passed through on the way up. We were even fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of Garibaldi Lake down below before the clouds rolled back in a moment later. It was already close to noon, so we ran into many people heading up to either Black Tusk or Helm Lake. We met a father-daughter duo who informed us of black bear cubs in the area, with no sign of the mama bear. They looked a bit spooked when they told us. Needless to say, Mack and I made tons of noise and hiked with an extra pep in our step as we continued our descent. We figured we were safe when we ran into a couple of other groups. To be safe, we shared the info about the cubs with them before continuing on. Upon returning to the lake, we enjoyed a cooked lunch—nothing fancy, just ramen—and hot chocolate at the picnic tables.

View of Garibaldi Lake on the descent

Wildflowers make Mack happy

Black Tusk Meadows

The rest of the day was spent napping in the tent, journaling out by the lake [me], reading Terry Pratchett [Mack], and playing cards. At dinner, we ate down by the lake since the shelters were full. A couple of rangers passed by, rifles slung over their shoulders, and warned us about bears (emphasis on the plural) in the area. They requested that we come straight to them if we happened to see any. We didn’t end up seeing any (thankfully), but neither of us walked around the campground alone after that.

Journaling (i.e. preparing for the blog) by the lake
Being silly in the tent; note the Buff/bandana hairdo I’m sporting


Day 4: Garibaldi Lake to Panorama Ridge, then back (14 km round-trip; 3 hours 46 minutes, breaks not included); Garibaldi Lake to Rubble Creek Trailhead (8.7 km; 2 hours, breaks not included)

The weather wasn’t looking too promising when we woke up on our last day. Although there was no chance of precipitation, the weather forecast, which Mack had checked the day before, read partly cloudy. At 6 am though, the entire sky above Garibaldi Lake was shrouded in clouds, engulfing the upper parts of the surrounding peaks as well (including Panorama Ridge at the north end of the lake). We figured it was still too early to base the day’s weather on the current conditions, so instead of heading out early like we had the day before, we waited. At 9:30 am, the clouds were clearing pretty well at the eastern and southern ends of the lake,—you could see blue sky, and the sun was shining through!—but conditions hadn’t improved at the northern end. My spirits were starting to sink, but at 10:15 am, we set off anyways.

Bear scat found near the day/cooking shelter!

Cute little cairn island

I was frustrated with the weather, especially with it being our final day (and my birthday!), and hiked at a brisk pace to release some of that frustration. We followed the same route as Black Tusk until we reached the junction about 2.5 km in. Instead of taking the left towards Black Tusk, we continued straight, heading through more beautiful wildflower meadows, and passing Mimulus Lake, which was completely hidden by clouds. However, once we reached the junction with Helm Lake, the weather seemed to be taking a turn for the better. There were less clouds, more blue sky, and we could actually see the sun! It was all uphill from there (literally and figuratively).

The signage in the park is awesome
Wildflowers on the way to Panorama Ridge
Awesome rock bridge/retaining wall
There’s a lake down there in the mist (Mimulus Lake I believe)
Helm Lake

Black Tusk Lake

As it continued up, the trail went from soft surface to talus and, at times, snow. Since the path is not so clearly defined up here, there are wooden posts at various intervals to keep you on track. These were especially helpful in the clouds. Eventually we were able to make out the ridge we were heading towards. We could still see bright blue sky whenever the clouds parted, so I kept my hopes up. The slope continued to get steeper as we made the final push to the primary viewpoint. There were several people already up there, waiting for the coveted view of Garibaldi Lake. We decided to continue along the ridge to the highest point instead.

Heading into the clouds

View of the ridge
Traversing to Panorama Peak via Panorama Ridge

Although the view to the south had not improved by the time we reached Panorama Peak, the view to the north, which encompasses Black Tusk, Black Tusk Lake, Helm Lake, other smaller lakes, and the vibrant green meadows contrasting with the higher elevation rock and snow, was spectacular. What a fantastic way to cap off one year and start the next one. We hung out on the peak for a good 20 minutes (maybe more) before deciding to head back over to the more popular viewpoint. On the way over, the clouds lifted ever so slightly that I was able to glimpse (and quickly snap a picture of) Garibaldi Lake just seconds before the clouds obscured it again.

View from Panorama Peak

Some kind of summit cairn?
Hikers waiting patiently for the clouds to disappear

Black Tusk behind the clouds
The only view I was able to get of the lake due to clouds

When we reached the other viewpoint, we gauged from the people waiting there that Garibaldi had yet to make an appearance. Desperate for a view, I asked Mack if we could wait as well. The minutes passed, but nothing improved. There were a few moments where the clouds started to shift due to the wind, but it was never enough to fully uncover the lake. I did get some nice glimpses of Mount Garibaldi, the Table, and the Tantalus Range though! After 40 minutes or so, we called it quits and headed back down. I was happy that I got to see anything at all! The cloud situation only seemed to worsen as we descended. Our timing had been just right. It was 3:45 pm when we returned to camp. Knowing we had at least a 2-hour hike ahead of us, we quickly packed up and were back on the trail by 4:30 pm.

Mount Garibaldi

Tantalus Range
Heading back down
One last look

The descent back to the parking lot seemed to go by quickly. We were so excited to eat “real” food that we practically ran parts of the hike. The final kilometer was the only time I stopped to admire and take pictures of the beautiful effect the sunlight had shining through the trees. At the parking lot, we shed our packs, removed our boots, and aired our aching feet. We packed up the car, cleaned up a little with some bathing wipes, and headed out to Squamish for a well deserved meal. Down at lower elevation, the weather was a lot nicer and we got the most incredible views of the entire trip (at least of the mountains) while driving the Sea to Sky Highway. British Columbia, you did not disappoint.

Hiking the final kilometer back to the car!

Tantalus Range from a viewpoint off of BC-99

Cispus Basin-Snowgrass Flats

  • Date: July 14-16, 2016
  • Location: Goat Rocks Wilderness
  • Start: Snowgrass Trailhead
  • Distance: 17.1 miles
  • Duration: 3 days
  • Type: Loop (with out-and-back section)
  • Map: Green Trails Map 303S: Goat Rocks Wilderness

Cassie, our spunky adventure pup, has been a member of our little family for over three months now. Since we adopted her, she’s been a frequent visitor of the great outdoors, joining us on numerous hikes and trail runs in Forest Park, Columbia River Gorge, around Mount Hood, and on the coast. She even carries her own gear! One of our big goals this summer was to take her on her first multi-day backcountry trip, so when I found out that Goat Rocks Wilderness—a trip we’d had planned since last Fall—is dog-friendly, we were beyond excited.

Although I’d originally planned a longer route with high mileage days (so we could explore more of the area), I made adjustments since it would be Cassie’s first trip. We were never more than six miles out from the trailhead the entire time, and our days never consisted of more than seven miles of hiking. It was a relaxing, easy-going weekend getaway. Cassie seemed to enjoy herself (at least there was no behavior on her part that suggested otherwise), and Mack and I got to experience the most beautiful wilderness we’ve seen since the Wallowas last summer.


Day 1: Snowgrass Trailhead to Cispus Basin (5.6 miles; 2 hours 42 minutes)

After 3.5 hours on the road (including a very bumpy hour on rough forest road), we arrived at our starting point. It was just after 11:00 am on a Thursday afternoon, so there weren’t too many cars yet. (Note: This trailhead, along with the alternative starting point, Berry Patch, gets INSANELY packed on weekends) We took our time getting last minute items packed, putting on boots, and outfitting Cassie with her Ruffwear Approach pack. I filled out our permit—these are free at the trailhead—and we hit the trail at 11:45 am.

It was already pretty hot when we started out. Fortunately, most of Snowgrass Trail winds through the forest, so we remained shaded from the sun for much of the hike. Water sources were plentiful on the way up and Cassie enjoyed drinking her fill at nearly every stream we crossed. She even plopped down in one of them to cool herself off! Despite the heat, the overall trek—even the uphill sections—was moderate. Our lighter-than-usual loads also helped with that. Rather than bringing our giant Osprey packs (both around 70 liters), we opted for our smaller Osprey climbing packs (each around 50 liters). It’s funny to compare this to our very first backpacking trip (which was also a 3-day/2-night situation). On that trip, we carried 30+ lbs each! On this trip, we managed to keep pack weight in the low 20s. Oh the wonders a little more experience does for you!

Our final stretch to Cispus Basin was on the PCT. The views finally opened up on this portion of the route. We could see far down into the valley below and look ahead to the South Cascades, including a clear shot of Mount Adams rising above everything else. We continued on for about a mile. As we rounded a bend in the trail, we suddenly found ourselves looking straight into the alpine paradise that is Cispus Basin. Sunlight bounced off the snowfield beneath the towering Goat Rocks massif, illuminating the Cispus River serpentining down into the green meadow below. We found several campsites situated right off of the trail with nearly unobstructed views of this incredible sight.

Crossing Cispus River
Amazing views along the PCT
Mount Adams in the background
Looking for a campsite in Cispus Basin
Gorgeous retaining wall on the PCT

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in camp: basking in the warmth of the sun (until the mosquitos started eating us alive), hiking a little further on the PCT to take in our surroundings a little more, snapping picture upon picture of said surroundings, getting in a light afternoon snooze before dinner, reading, and playing cards. It was perfect. And we were so happy to be sharing the experience with Cassie (who was really digging the natural water sources more than anything else).

Happy as a clam at our first campsite
Mack saying ‘hi’ from the tent

Cispus Basin

The sun was still overhead when we decided to turn in for the night. Although it had been a relatively easy day for me and Mack, the long day of driving and hiking definitely left Cassie pretty exhausted. Rather than curling up on the camp bed I brought for her (Ruffwear Highlands bed with sleeping pad insert), she snuggled up between our sleeping bags and fell fast asleep. Day one was a success.

Cassie’s first time in the tent!

Finally fell asleep


Day 2: Cispus Basin to PCT/Snowgrass  Trail junction (2 miles; about 50 minutes); side-trip to Old Snowy (4.4 miles; somewhere between 2 hours 40 minutes and 3 hours 10 minutes—forgot to stop my watch when we returned to camp)

At some point in the night, Cassie had retired to the foot of our tent. She was finally lying comfortably on her dog bed when I woke up. After taking in that precious moment my focus shifted to the discomfort I was feeling up and down my legs. I knew full well what the culprit was, but I still didn’t expect to count 40+ mosquito bites when I rolled up my pants! Ugh. I will never be too lazy to get out bug spray again.

A quick map check informed us that we were in for an easy stroll to our next campsite, just a mere 2 miles away. We started off in the morning fog, but rays of sunlight were already bursting through just a few minutes into our hike, and the skies cleared up soon after that. As we neared the junction with Snowgrass, we entered a stunning wildflower meadow blanketing the slopes of the Goat Rocks, which were now visible, on our right. Old Snowy and Ives Peak came into view as we continued north and were on full display once we reached the junction. The Rascals’ It’s A Beautiful Morning might have started playing in my head…

View from the PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction
Goat Rocks!

We found a lovely campsite right off Snowgrass Trail, tucked away in a small grove of trees, with spectacular views of both Goat Rocks and Mount Adams (which appeared closer than it had the day before though we were moving further away from it). Our short trek had taken less than an hour, so we decided to relax for a little while before starting our side-trip to the summit of Old Snowy. Since there were no other dogs around (like there had been the day before at Cispus Basin), we let Cassie off her leash so she could move freely within our campsite. The last impression I want her to have of camping is being tethered to a tree the entire time. We kept her close, but she definitely enjoyed having the freedom to choose her own place to lie down.

Incredible campsite near the junction

View of Mount Adams from our campsite

After enjoying some camp time, we strapped on our packs again and returned to the PCT, which leads up to a climber’s trail for Old Snowy. The path led up through the meadow covered slopes I’d been admiring earlier and also onto a few snowfields. My guess is that Cassie had never experienced snow before this trip. She was (literally) prancing with excitement every time we had to traverse a snowfield! And she was mesmerized by little balls of snow rolling down the slopes. We continued onto a rocky ridgeline overlooking the surrounding glaciers on either side of the Goat Rocks.

Taking the PCT up to Old Snowy

Cassie’s first time walking on snow!

The going got a little more tough after we turned onto the climber’s trail. Navigating a boulder field is never that fun, especially with a dog leashed to your waist. We lost the trail at one point but decided to continue heading up, which required lifting Cassie over rock after massive rock. I imagine she could’ve jumped over them with ease if she hadn’t been leashed to me, but the area was pretty exposed—drop-offs on either side—and I didn’t want to put her at risk. We almost turned around. Clouds were rolling in and the wind started to pick up. Eventually, though, we found the trail again—no more boulder hopping!—and continued up (We learned on the way back down that there was a small snowfield that we needed to cross in order to stay on the trail, but we had missed it because we were following what appeared to be a trail up through the boulders) Unfortunately, the last couple hundred feet up to the summit required more difficult scrambling (at least for someone leashed to their dog). At this point, the clouds had now completely obscured the top, making the last push even riskier. Although this last portion wouldn’t have presented much of a challenge for me and Mack, we decided to call it quits for Cassie’s sake. The constant rock hopping (in addition to being lifted and carried by me) really wore her out. She was already falling asleep when we stopped to discuss our options. Old Snowy would just have to wait until our next trip.

Sitting somewhere just below the summit

Old Snowy

When we arrived back in camp, Cassie immediately laid down and fell asleep. We spent the remainder of the afternoon hanging out, looking back on our trip so far, and making plans for “real” food upon our return to Portland. Something other than tortillas and peanut butter sounded great.

Snoozing in the campsite after our summit attempt
Finally using her Ruffwear bed 🙂


Day 3: PCT/Snowgrass Trail junction to Snowgrass Trailhead (5.1 miles; 1 hour 58 minutes)

The trek back out the next morning was more of a quick jaunt than a hike. The sun was still hiding behind the Goat Rocks when we packed up and left. It finally peeked out over the tops of the rocky summits as we made our way down into Snowgrass Flats; a perfect ending to a perfect weekend.

Morning views on the way back to the trailhead

Final view
Goat Creek
1.5 miles to go!

All in all, Cassie’s first backpacking adventure was wonderfully successful! In fact, I was so excited when we got home that I immediately started looking into an alternative trip for our September backpacking weekend. We had originally planned on thru-hiking the Enchantments (without Cassie, since dogs are prohibited) but decided it would be more fun to do one last trip with Cassie before the end of summer. So…Three Sisters here we come!