Category Archives: Backpacking
I was not successful in reaching the Kentucky Falls when I attempted this trip back in February. This effort on April 19-20 was a perfect trip.
The weather was perfect, the trail was relatively dry and the Kentucky Falls were amazing. This hike is one of the best River hikes in Oregon, however, getting to the trailheads is a real pain. No matter which direction you approach from the last hour is a difficult one lane road with many possible problems. I found that coming from the north access via Mapleton is a safe bet. Access over the coastal mountains from the east is more scenic but snow can be an issue.
The Lower Kentucky Twin Falls are 6.5 miles with the Upper Falls at about 7.5 miles. These are impressive water falls which can be accessed from the Kentucky Falls Trailhead, but that option is for day hikers, access from the North Fork of the Smith River Trailhead makes for a great overnight backpacking trip.
The trail is in excellent shape except for some of the less travelled portion from about 5-6 miles. Two new bridges across the Smith make this trail from the downstream trailhead a great overnighter, or you could setup a shuttle between the trailheads.
The first bridge is at 1.7 miles and the second at 3.2. After the second bridge you climb up the south side crossing various small streams. This portion of the trail will need some maintenance to shore it up and remove a few trees. No real problems but some hassles. However, this portion of the trail is extremely beautiful. A few little water falls before you get to the big ones. And a few campsites about a mile before the big falls which are important to note since there is only one real campsite above the lower Kentucky Falls.
Once you approach the lower falls you first see the less visible falls on the left and then you the falls on the right. I arrived around 5:00 pm so the sun from the west was perfectly lighting the falls.
When the backpacking stars align you have to go. Got back from a nice trip to Arizona with a Grand Canyon visit highlight to realize that the weather was perfect for a Southern Oregon backpacking trip on the Rogue River. Since I did the Wild Rogue Wilderness Loop a couple of years ago I was looking at the East end of the Rogue River Trail. I thought about starting at Marial and hiking up river, but the thought of that 2 hour drive on a terrible road with Brook convinced me to just start at the Grave Creek end and hike until I felt like turning around. We ended up turning around at Kelsey Creek at 14.3 miles. Overall a very leisurely 4 day 3 night 29 mile trip in perfect weather. However, the ticks were bad but not much poison oak on this part of the trail.
We got started at about 2:00 pm and ended up 7.1 miles at Slate Slide. The Rogue River Trail is in great shape and the frequent views of the river valley are as good as it gets.
All by ourselves next to the river was perfect for Brook not to feel like she needed to watch the trail. We found a washed up rubber soccer ball that Brook played with all night. One bummer though was not appreciating how sharp the slate was until I punctured my REI blowup seat cushion. We slept in until the sun dried out our tent, got on the trail by 11:00.
The second day again brought perfect weather and trail conditions. I knew we were about to descend in elevation just before getting to the Meadows Creek area so I decided to camp at a clear area above the trail at about 13 miles behind a very old Madrone Tree. I had decided that we would head back up river the next day due to concerns about ticks.
I setup camp and then took the daypack to hike on to Kelsey Creek. I was impressed with the Meadows Creek area for great camp sites. Tonight’s campsite was more in the trees above the trail so I had some issues with Brook wanting to monitor trail traffic, but she is all bark. I think we may have stumbled upon a relatively undiscovered old cabin foundation near our site.
Above was a larger clearing where a stream looked like it was diverted to multiple channels for irrigation. The old cabin had a fireplace foundation and the outline of a wall foundation. We found an old stovepipe and various other metal items. It was kind of cool envisioning what it must have been like living there.
The next morning we hit the trail by 9:00 am enjoying another perfect day, maybe even a little warm. We stopped at Slate Slide again so Brook could play with her rubber soccer ball. While there a number of rafters pulled in to take advantage of the eddy’s to cast a fishing line with good results.
My plan was to camp at Whiskey Creek, but I spotted a cool looking river site at Doe Creek so we traversed down to setup camp. This area turned out to be primo and we selected a nice area on grass near the river. A couple of women with a dog from Bend shared the upper part of the river area.
We settled in around 2:30 and took advantage of a beautiful warm afternoon to relax. Ducks were competing for river space, fish were jumping and a bald eagle was buzzing us. It doesn’t get any better then this.
Brook was exceptionally photogenic since she was extremely relaxed.
After a good meal we continued relaxing until the sun went down and the temps dropped. It was so nice I took a lot of videos to attempt to capture the experience. The moon was almost full so I left the fly off my tent to enjoy it. It was interesting watching Brook totally case the perimeter after I went into the tent. She is very committed to her role as protector. The dew turned out to be very heavy so I had to put the tent fly on around 1:00 am.
Morning was beautiful with early sun to dry things out. We checked out the historic cabin at Whiskey Creek, it was impressive. Overall this was an excellent backpacking trip.
The Olympics were over and Brook and I needed to get into the wilderness so the window of good weather on Feb 26-27 looked like our chance for a getaway.
I had read the few other posts which started at Kentucky Falls to understand that the roads to this area were confusing, but Google seemed to know how to get me there. Yes, and of course No, The Google route tried to take me over the mountain on BLM Road 28 but the snow storm the previous night put an end to that option. It was a beautiful view where I got stuck in the new wet snow and I did have cell service for the possibility of a rescue, but I was not to be embarrassed by this misfortune. I put on my chains and dug out the snow with my window scraper to eventually b able to turn around. My only suggestion for the route to either the NF Smith Trailhead or Kentucky Falls from the East would be to go by way of Mapleton, OR.
I finally arrived at the trailhead and set out on trail by 2:00 pm. It is supposedly only 6.5 miles to the lower Kentucky Falls which was my intended destination. The trail is nice, seems like you hike on moss most of the way. The scenery here is your typical coastal mountain rain forest which gives you every hue of green and brown. This trail must have been waiting for the Forest Service to build the two new bridges across the Smith because I had not found much information on this route. All was good, late February and Brook and were on the Trail Again.
The first new bridge at about 1.7 miles was impressive and much appreciated. Once crossing over to the other side you climb and are presented with some great views of the river valley.
At about mile 3.5 you get to the second new bridge.
Shortly there after you are presented with an important fork in the trail. The seemly main trail to the right heads down to the river where I aborted due to river flooding. You get pretty twisted around so I thought I was heading up river. So when I came back to the fork and headed up the other trail thinking it was some optional route I was actually back on the trail I wanted.
I was using the Forest Service map but I was not reading it correctly because in my mind the trail to Kentucky Falls was impassable. So I followed this correct trail to about mile 5.0 looking for a campsite. The terrain is steep and the trail was getting more precarious but I think it was probably fine if I had known where I was. It had been a tough day, but I sure am disappointed in my getting confused. Anyways, it was raining and getting late so I turned around and ended up finding a campsite back below the second bridge at about mile 3.2.
Oh well, I will definitely have to go back to finish this trip to Kentucky Falls. It did stop raining but everything was wet and temp was about 35. Plus I was a bit tired. Brook and I settled in and I was asleep by 8:30. One of the best sleeping nights I have had on the trail. Brook decided she needed to sleep outside. Morning broke to clear skies. We got back to the car by about 10:30 and I decided we should try to drive up to Kentucky Falls. And guess what, we got stuck again in the same heavy wet snow. Overall this was a failure with regard to reaching intended destinations, however, I have gained a good understanding of the area and I’m very impressed with the potential for other hikes because the terrain is fabulous.
After about a month to heal minor surgery on my big toenail I set out on what turned out to be an aggressive overnight to Kings Mountain in the Tillamook State Forest.
Aggressive because of a 24 hour window, about 4000 vertical and being a bit out of shape for climbing. But the weather was awesome and Brook was anxious to return to the wilderness. Two years ago I did Elk Mountain looping back by way of Elk Creek. Both Elk and Kings Mountains are fairly radical climbs of about 2500′. This time I added an extra 4 miles and another 500′ by starting at the Elk Creek Trailhead and hiking to the Kings Mountain trail by way of the Wilson River Trail. PDF of first leg of the Loop
The trail starts out with a steep climb up to the junction to the Elk Mountain Trail, but you continue on to the Wilson River Trail for 3.5 miles to the Kings Mountain Trail. This stretch is moderate with plenty of beautiful Rain Forest terrain. You need to be on the lookout for mountain bikers who love this trail.
The 2.3 miles 2400′ vertical up to the summit on the Kings Mountain Trail is the killer. Although this climb is not as technically difficult as the Elk Mountain climb, it is still serious vertical in a relatively short distance. PDF of Kings Mountain Climb You do get a good view at about 2600′. This is about when my leg muscles were starting to talk to me, but that is one of the benefits of backpacking. You commit to a destination which makes it difficult to avoid the valuable exercise.
This is a popular day hike so I had company on the climb but rarely are they backpackers. Camping on top of a mountain means you carry all of your water which also includes water for Brook. Close to the summit there is a real picnic table which is a bit unusual. It was a photo and kissing opportunity.
The summit was near as the views rewarded us.
As expected we were the only campers so we took the only spot at the summit. The evening was quickly ending and I think because I was so tired I could not warm up. But a hot meal and then a cup of hot chocolate warmed my body as it seemed like the air was warming. Now it was time for sunset.
It was a perfect evening with an awesome star display and an inspiring sunrise. Brook opted to sleep outside most of the night.
I committed to playing golf at 1:30 back in McMinnville so Brook and I needed to hike out the 6 miles on an early timeline. PDF of Kings Mtn to Elk Creek Trail
The backside of Kings Mountain is fairly technical with ups and downs as well as a rope assisted climb.
Once we got to the Elk Creek trail is was an easy 4 miles out all downhill. This section turned into a lush rain forest once we got to Elk Creek.
A work crew was crossing Elk Creek via a ladder bridge that appeared to be quite a challenge.
Back at the trailhead after a wonderful 24 hour adventure.
- Travel to Colorado
- Zirkel – Mica Lake
- Rabbit Ears
- Gilpin Lake Loop
- Wyoming Trail
- Mt Werner
- Flattops – Hooper Lake
- Snow on Gilpin Lake Loop
- Devil’s Causeway
Travel to Colorado
I retired at the end of June, backpacked the Wallowa’s, Three Sisters and the Timberline Trail to get back in the groove with the main adventure goal to backpack around Steamboat Springs, CO, during the month of September.
And it was awesome. Heading off on a month-long journey with my dog required some planning but for the most part we just adapted to the situation.
We decided to take the northern route through Montana which did not turn out to be a wise decision due to many forest fires burning in the north. We did get to stop by the Palouse Falls on the way to Spokane but the fires around Missoula were extensive and the air quality was horrible so we moved on as quickly as possible to Jackson, WY. There was some smoke in the Tetons, however, it was acceptable.
This adventure was as much about exploring new backpacking trails as it was about learning how to travel with my dog Brook. Staying in a hotel or a campground were new experiences for her. She struggle a bit with the need to protect me from all the nearby sounds but she quickly adapted to the situations. The other travel issue was how to dissipate Brook’s high energy.
We dealt with this on drive days by stopping at parks to play some ball.
The visit to Jackson, WY, was a great way to start the backpacking portion of our adventure.
We camped in a NFS campground with plans to find a representative backpacking overnight to experience the local wilderness. Asking around town we decided to backpack to Goodwin Lake and Jackson Ridge. The road to the trailhead turned out to be the worst we would encounter, but the Rav4 handled the challenge. The view would have been of the mountains next to the town of Jackson but the smoke filtered the view extensively. However, the Goodwin Lake terrain was exceptional. This was trip was also about acclimating to the altitude. The trailhead started at about 8100′ and I hiked up to about 10000′ above Goodwin Lake exploring Jackson Ridge. I was definitely sucking air but I had plenty of time to let my lungs adapt.
After coming out from Goodwin Brook and I did some sight-seeing around Jackson Hole. Traveling to Steamboat we were able to checkout Pinedale, WY, to do some research for a future trip to explore the Wind River Range.
Back in Steamboat
My adventure to Steamboat was not a random choice. In 1976 I left Indiana to replant in Colorado. I ended up in Steamboat Springs that winter only to see the mountain close because of no snow. This story is much longer but the outcome included living and working around Steamboat until 1987. During that time I was discovering my passions (Second Quarter). Returning to my backpacking origins was a confirmation of that passion as well as a walk down memory lane. Oh, but Steamboat has changed. I left the area 30 years ago and it was obvious that Steamboat was growing, but I would not have predicted how this invasive development would creep into the wilderness. Money can afford beauty and Steamboat has sold a lot of it.
The Zirkel Wilderness which is northwest of Steamboat provided my entry into backpacking and fishing. The small store in Clark provided the entry. Today the Clark store is thriving from serving the growing population in the area and the large influx of vacationers and hunters. Over the next 3 weeks the Clark store served me numerous blueberry pancakes.
I started out on my first trip on August 3rd needing to escape the Labor Day weekend vacation crowds. I thought I got to the Slavonia Trailhead early on Sunday morning, however, I ended up having to park about a half mile down the road. My goal for my return to Zirkel was a new destination for me, Mica Lake. This turned out to be the right choice since it carries the lowest traffic and allows camping near the lake.
This was about a 3 mile hike in climbing 1500′. I was still sucking air, but acclimation to the altitude was progressing. The weather was perfect and my campsite on a rock next to the lake was perfect. Brook and I shared the lake with a 4 or 5 other groups but the basin was essentially ours alone. This video gives you an idea of the solitude.
What a great return to the Zirkel Wilderness. Now out of the wilderness to meet my old backpacking buddy, John, at Steamboat Lake for a few days.
John was recovering from some serious medical conditions but was making incredible progress so we were able to push his body more each day.
First a hike around Steamboat Lake and playing tourist in Steamboat. Then we had to summit the iconic Rabbit Ears which recently lost part of an ear. I have made it known to my children that I would like for them to spread my ashes from Rabbit Ears. This request is to insure that my ashes end up on each side of the Continental Divide as well as forcing my kids to venture into the wilderness. The hike is basic but with some vertical challenge. A few fires had sprung up around Steamboat and were now contributing to a less than desirable air quality.
Gilpin Lake Loop
It was time to say goodbye to my old backpacking buddy. We referred to ourselves 30+ years ago as the last of the true mountain men. I was so impressed to have my friend hike to Gold Creek Lake with me on the first day of my Gilpin Lake Loop. This was simple loop that would allow me to come out with time to visit with my old business partner, Jeff, from the early Steamboat days and be able to watch my Denver Broncos. Broncos looked great.
My next venture was to explore the Wyoming Trail which is really the Continental Divide Trail near Steamboat. I knew that the Wyoming Trail connected to the Gold Creek Trail which I had recently been on and from there I could take it over to connect with the Three Island Lake Trail, but I would need some shuttle help. Jeff provided that shuttle and hiked with me up to Gold Creek Lake.
Once I switched to the Wyoming Trail I could tell that I was alone except for hunters who might be lurking in the woods. I was climbing out from the Gold Creek basin when I had a fairly exciting encounter with a large brown bear. Brook and I both saw the bear about 50 feet away when it jumped up and then scampered off through the woods. The animal was so elegant in how it effortlessly bounded over the fallen trees. I was impressed but not scared. I really sensed that we both had plenty of space in this wilderness and we would not be seeing each other any more. The first night we actually got a little rain which definitely improved the smoke situation. However, there was a fair amount of thunder and lightning which Brook had to deal with. She is not afraid of a storm but she does not want to be in the tent during a storm. But that is her choice and she seemed to be OK with sleeping outside during the storm.
The following day we needed to traverse the open space of the Wyoming Trail over to where we would descend to Three Island lake. The problem was that I did not have a map showing me exactly where that connection would be made. I knew it existed but I was also stressed a bit by how far I had to go to connect with it. Finally reaching the sign provided a very positive feeling.
The terrain of the Wyoming Trail that I was on was much like a mesa and was obviously used for open range grazing. Truly beautiful. The hike down to Three Island Lake was easy but finding a campsite that was approximately a quarter-mile from the lake was a challenge. I ended up falling twice with my backpack on while bushwhacking over fallen trees. We did end up with a great campsite though.
Bob was joining me from sea level so we needed to work on acclimating him to altitude. We started off by hiking up above Fish Creek Falls and then climbing Mount Werner or the Steamboat Ski mountain up to the Thunderhead Lodge.
We took the Thunderhead Trail up but got lost and ended up on a mountain bike trail that was not going to end well if bikers had been using it. Overall the hike was tough and rewarding, as in the option to have a Burger with Beer at the lodge. This was also an opportunity for Brook to prove her flexibility in that she had to stay tied to a rail outside the lodge while we were eating and she did great. We all got to ride the gondola down.
It was time to venture into the Flattops Wilderness with an overnight that would help to prepare Bob for a multi-day outing. We chose the trail to Hooper Lake from Stillwater Reservoir that would take us up over a saddle for a spectacular view back over Stillwater.
It had rained all the night before but this was a beautiful crisp day showing the area’s first snowfall. Brook was definitely excited by finding the snow.
We thought about going to Keener Lake but opted for Hooper Lake. This area also shows the signs of open range grazing along with offering good fishing. Hooper Lake was spectacular sitting under a surrounding fortress wall.
This was the coldest night of the Colorado Adventure getting down to 28 thanks to a clear sky which spawned a sunrise beaming off the fortress.
Mount Zirkel Goal
We were now ready for a 3 day trip with the goal to summit Mt. Zirkel. The plan was to do the Gilpin Lake Loop camping at Gilpin the first night and then on to the Gold Creek meadow to camp for the next 2 nights while summiting Zirkel with a day hike.
We knew that a front was coming in but it was only supposed to produce wind on the second day. The hike to Gilpin had some challenging stream crossings but it was a beautiful day. It was a perfect evening set for the first night near Gilpin Lake. Brook enjoyed managing her herd.
We were treated with a beautiful sunset and sunrise.
I did get lucky waking up in time to capture the sunrise.
The climb over the pass brought on the wind but it was to be an easy day.
And then down into the Gold Creek meadow.
We chose a campsite at the head of the meadow and set our tents up with a great view. Then the clouds started to form causing us to consider the possibility of some snow.
We had a good fire, a good dinner and then it started to snow at about sundown. Off to bed listening to really heavy snowflakes pounding our tents. Brook finally came into the tent around 9 pm and sleep happened. Woke up a little after 10 pm realizing that we had a problem with snow. To much and to heavy, the tent was collapsing under the weight. In fact, Brook was being smothered at the foot of my tent. I was banging the snow off the tent which scared Brook and she went out on her own. Turns out she went over to Bob’s tend and scared him a bit since he could not figure out what animal was prancing around his tent. I got the snow cleared from the tent but now I had to think about how we would deal with the mounting snow pack. At that time there was about 6 inches and it was snowing hard. All I could think of was how the snow/moisture might affect some difficult stream crossings that we would have to make the next day. Actually, I offered prayers that we needed it to stop snowing, and thank God it did.
Morning greeted us with almost a great sunrise, but it had definitely stopped snowing so I knew it might be a bit uncomfortable but no worries about making it back to the trailhead.
It was actually quite beautiful seeing all of this familiar terrain covered by snow, but we still had some difficult stream crossings to navigate. The very first crossing was right by our campsite and thankfully there had not been snow melt to raise the stream. On to the trail which was still easy to follow. As we progressed into the forest and dropped elevation the snow was lighter, but more stream crossing were ahead.
Overall I really loved this piece of the adventure. The snow was a great twist and it reminded me cross-country skiing which I also was introduced to back in those early days around Steamboat. The hike out got a bit wet as the snow was raining off the trees as we got lower.
Now back to Steamboat to recuperate and prepare for the hike I had anticipated the most, the Devil’s Causeway.
The weather was clear but there was going to be wind which might prove to be a problem up at the Causeway, but then again it would probably provide a good excuse for deciding not to cross. So back to Stillwater Reservoir for the trail to the Devil’s Causeway.
This area also had the best option for autumn aspen colors. Overall the aspen color change was disappointing but there was enough color mixed in with the evergreens to present some of the most beautiful scenery of the adventure. The climb up to the Causeway was steady with a final push at the end.
Once on the top the 360 views were amazing. I think Brook really appreciated it as well.
The Causeway was all that I had heard it would be, and there was no way I was going to walk across it, but I had the good excuse of it being to windy.
The weather had changed and my hangnail on my big toe was making it difficult to hike so Brook and I headed back to Oregon.
I was surprised to see all of the energy exploration activity while driving across Utah on Hwy 40. Vernal, UT, seemed to be a major hub for this activity. Maybe all of that activity was the reason while that deer darted out from the bushes next to the highway and slammed into my car. This type of accident is typically reserved for evening travel, but this was middle of the afternoon, traffic was heavy. I was moving at 65 mph with oncoming traffic, so no time to take evasive maneuvers. My split second decision was to not hit the brake since I think that might have allowed the deer to hit the windshield. So I took the hit which damaged the entire passenger side of my car.
Everything came together for the perfect backpacking trip around Mt. Hood. The previous week was about heat and smoke from various forest fires burning in the state, but then the winds shifted to blow the smoke to the east, temperatures dropped and the stage was set for backpacking the Timberline Trail in perfect weather. Brook and I hit the trail mid morning and who do we see at the registration box,
Randy “Rebo” Berton, who I recognized from his many posts on the PCT Facebook Group.
I didn’t give much thought to the track the Timberline Trail would lead me on, but what did catch me off guard was that by starting out from the Timberline Lodge you basically hike downhill for the first day as you head to Ramona Falls.
This downhill did test my knees a bit which I never had to worry about before. Hiking below Paradise Park we had to navigate a number of fallen trees, but nothing too difficult.
We ended up camping at the clear stream just before the Sandy River crossing. The Sandy turned out to be the most challenging of the many water crossings. I wasn’t sure how Brook would navigate it so I went ahead and waded so not to influence her into walking the narrow tree bridge. Brook now makes her own decisions on how to cross streams and she decided to wade the first part of the Sandy. I was fairly impressed with her since the current was trying to sweep her under the tree and she really doesn’t like to get wet.
Next, one of the great rewards of this area, Ramona Falls. One of the most unique and beautiful cascading waterfalls I have ever seen.
At Ramona Falls you have 3 trails to choose from which all take you to where the Timberline Trail leaves the PCT. We chose the actual Timberline Trail which does add .4 miles but it was worth it. I have done the Muddy Fork route and it would be shorter but with more elevation change. Overall though, we were looking at a day of climbing which felt good on the knees but really kicked our butts. This stretch is extremely beautiful with an abundance of lush vegetation and stunning views of Mt. Hood. I was hoping to get to the Vista Ridge Trail area, but Brook and I opted for our own private view of the mountains to the north just before the McNeil Point Trail.
Here is an assortment of photos from this section of the Timberline Trail.
Tragedy did strike just after setting up our tent when I was trying to take a little nap. Brook was in the tent when she saw a chipmunk that needed her attention. I unzipped the tent door and out she ran, but pushed off from my air mattress and punctured it with her claw. A major bummer as I realized that I was going to sleep on the hard earth for the next two nights.
However, the views of Mt Adams, Rainier and St. Helens with a sunset and sunrise were stunning.
Day three would include many miles through the aftermath of the 2011 Dollar Lake fire and then past Cloud Cap on to High Point. Another tough day with many challenging water crossings, but so worth it.
The extent of the fire was large but selective offering a unique contrast of dead trees supporting a ground cover of mostly wild flowers. The big concern for this section is the Eliot Creek crossing which I admit to not researching completely. The new trail takes you down to a more stable crossing area but I did not want to add the decent and climb so I hiked far enough on the old trail to see that the old trail was far too dangerous especially for Brook. So from the Eliot Stream low point below Cloud Cap the climb to High Point near 7300 ft was daunting.
The trail options from the Cloud Cap Trailhead are exceptional. Before hitting the total exposed trail I took a break to refresh my feet in a beautiful stream. I was not sure I would make it to High Point but knew there would be water just before so I climbed light. I really enjoyed the new above tree line terrain, although Brook prefers more shade, but she did have snow to cool off on. A big help was a strong cool breeze that helped push us up to High Point. There were plenty of small snow melt streams all the way up. My goal was a protected campsite just beyond High Point. This campsite at about 7300 ft with Mt. Hood behind was perfect. Some hardy scrub trees to offer protection which turned out to be really important that evening.
The views of Mt Jefferson to the south offered a unique observation of cloud formations fed by the various forest fires.
The winds picked up and noisily shook the tent which was detrimental for sleep and scared Brook from wanting to be in the tent. However, it was strange, that it got warmer throughout the night. Going out for a break at 2:00 am was “Way Cool” with the warm wind and the a moonless star filled sky.Luckily I woke up for the sunrise. I was ready for the last 10 miles which started out by dropping from the sky to Gnarl Ridge through Mt Hood Meadows and on to the White River Canyon.
Climbing 1100 ft to Timberline Lodge was going to be tough since my body was telling me that it was spent.
This is when I pulled out my earbuds and let my music playlist get me to the end. A beer and burger at Charlie’s in Government Camp was such a great reward. Overall, I highly recommend the Timberline Trail.
I was looking for a 3 or 4 day trip when a friend living in Bend, OR, offered to provide logistical support, so I took him up on providing me a shuttle from the Lava Lake Trailhead at McKenzie Pass to the Elk Lake Trailhead south of the Sisters Wilderness. This would be an excellent 30+ mile trip which had special significance since it would be the completion of the PCT Segment E that I aborted back in 2015 due to the heat.
I hit the trail late afternoon on Thursday and made it to the top of Koosah Mountain for an evening with a fabulous view and an army of mosquitoes. Waking up to those mosquitoes did cause me to question why I had decided to venture into the Sisters Wilderness at this time.
However, I also realized that the lakes region south of the Sisters is a perfect mosquito breeding ground, so it did get better as I progressed north. I also ran into more snow as I got closer to the Sisters. Snow was not a detriment but rather refreshing. It was also a bit early for great flower presentations, however, there was plenty of color.
I camped the second night at Hinton Creek which provided a beautiful view of the Middle Sister and meadows for Brook to monitor wildlife activity. She also had a lot of fun playing in the snow around our campsite.
The next day we would hike through Obsidian Limited Entry Area where I knew I might want to soak my feet in the headwaters of the Obsidian Falls stream.
I took my time progressing through the area enjoying the scenery. I had a feeling I would camp the next night at Sawyer Bar and it turned out to be better then I had remembered it.
A perfect campsite between forest and lava, plus the mosquitoes were not a problem.
The last day offered up the climb over Olie Dilldock Pass which is a unique experience hiking over lava fields.
Always best to do this pass during the cooler portion of the day. In the heat it can be referenced more to this quote from Ted Ricks “I looked back down over the lava cinder river below us with heat rising off of it…and thought of Dante leading Aeneas out of Hell…”. The views of lava rock sculpture and the distant mountains: Washington, Three Finger Jack, Jefferson and Hood make it one of the highlights of the trip. Once over the pass it is an easy hike to the Lava Lake Trailhead passing by the Matthieu lakes. There was a nice “Trail Angel” couple celebrating their 29th wedding anniversary at the campground prepared to serve the PCT through hikers. Unfortunately very few through hikers had made it this far north yet.
I knew heading into the Eagle Cap Wilderness from the Wallowa Lake Trailhead that I may not be able to access my desired objectives but the unknown is just as alluring. I got a late start after dropping my wife off at the Fishtrap Writers Conference ending up where the trail to Ice Lake splits from the West Fork Wallowa River Trail.
I bought a new REI lightweight day pack which I have found is a great way to take on those offshoot trails which typically include a lot of vertical. The climb to Ice Lake is a good steady 2500 foot vertical, so kind of nice for Brook and I not to be carrying our backpacks. This hike is primo, hillside meadows, roaring streams, waterfalls and great views. The reward is a majestic lake in a high mountain bowl.
The climb to Ice Lake is packed with photo opportunities, here is a sampling.
Unfortunately about half way up the trail I realized that a blister was birthing on my left heel. No problem, I would stop and put a slab of moleskin on it. Oh crap, I did not transfer my first aid kit to my day pack. This is a moment when a backpacker knows that they have screwed up. I knew that I was gonna pay for my error with a bad exposed blister for the rest of my trip. Oh well, I would be able to deal with it for the rest of the trip thanks to moleskin, but the price would eventually have to be paid.
My campsite at the base of the Ice Lake trail was great, next to a stream with plenty of wood for a fire and nice benches to enjoy it from. Brook enjoyed keeping the chipmunk and squirrel population under control. Four cute fawns ran through the camp not realizing that they probably shouldn’t be doing that. Thankfully, Brook does not feel the need to chase the larger wildlife.
For the second half of the trip was I was hoping to get to the Lakes Basin, camp at Mirror Lake, even though I knew it would be iced over. I would then do another day hike to the many lakes in the area and then come out after 4 nights in the Wallowa’s.
Unfortunately the bridge is gone for the stream crossing at 6 Mile Meadow and the trees jammed together would not allow for Brook to safely cross. I talked with a USFS trail crew who confirmed the risk of that crossing and another that you would have to wade through at waist level. So we opted to head for Frazer Lake even though we knew it was also covered by snow.
The trail was not good. Half of it was really a stream and there were many downed trees to crawl over of under. We got to about a mile from Frazier Lake and decided to abort back to a great stream side camps site at the crossing to the 7 Mile Horse Camp.
This actually turned out to be perfect with another great fire right next to a wider babbling stream. Plus the USFS trail crew followed us and took care of all the downed trees, so our return trip was much easier. The hiking options had run out and my raw bloody heel under the moleskin was motivating me to return to Wallowa Lake a day early. The hike out was uneventful and the a little painful, but I had plenty of rewards especially knowing that access was going to be restricted by the heavy snowpack. Brook and I spent a few days in Joseph and Enterprise with a couple of visits to Terminal Gravity for food and IPAs.
I finally made it to Image Lake and boy was it worth it. On my Spider Gap Loop trip in 2015 we tried to get to Image Lake but had to turn back. After climbing the last 1400 ft from Miner’s Ridge on this trip I would say we made the right decision to backoff back in 2015. But I needed to get to Image Lake partly for fulfillment and partly to push the body into backpacking shape since this was my last weekend in the North Cascades before retirement the following friday. The trip is 32 miles with 4800 vertical with most of the vertical, 3300 ft, from the river trail. I planned on 3 days but I was not sure how it would play out.
The hike into the Canyon Creek campground was a possible first night destination, however, all campsites were taken thanks to a fairly large PCTA work crew. So I hit the PCT going North and saw that there would be a few campsites before the Image Lake Trail.
Shortly after Canyon Creek Brook and I were attacked by “Max” a combination Shepherd and Wolf. All I heard was “No Max” and around the bend comes Max in full charge. Brook got between my legs and held her ground but Max was only about attack. A serious fight broke out at my feet and I believe Brook realized she was not going to win. I heard a dog cry and then Brook took off running for her life with Max in pursuit. I think Brook chomped on some part of Max’s body which freed her for the get-away. Well Max’s owner chased after Max and I followed calling for Brook. Running with a full pack at my age is not what I should have been doing, but my dog was in trouble. After about a quarter mile Max was contained and I headed up the trail looking for Brook. I found her to be safe and injury free. Wow, I did not really say anything to Max’s owner because he knew how bad this was. He said that it was good that Max was tired. I was thinking it was good Brook is so fast. Overall, this was probably a good learning experience for Brook, to know that anything can happen and it is best to stay close to the Human you want to protect. Brook’s trail etiquette is almost perfect, but people don’t always understand how Aussies want to check them out.
Back to the trail with the temperatures rising to about 80 which was taking a toll on my body. I would have loved to have been able to climb to Image Lake for the overnight view, but I was beat. Luckily there was a sweet campsite just before the trail to Image Lake. I decided to camp there and go to Image Lake the next day with my new lightweight day pack that I just bought at REI. This was the first time in a while that I have camped in a forest setting with lodgepole type trees with not a lot of distracting sound such as you would get from a rushing stream. The evening turned out to be wonderful listening to the wildlife and watching Brook try to stalk all of the local chipmunks. The sun setting between the trees was a whole different kind of beautiful sunset. I even took a selfie.
But I was tired and thanks to splurging by bringing my Therm-a-rest air mattress, I slept like a log. I did not use my fly which did offer some star gazing. Brook started out in the tent but she knew she needed to be outside to properly protect us. I did not try to influence her otherwise even though it was pitch black out.
Sunday morning and it is time to climb to Image Lake.
I knocked off about 2000 ft to Miner’s Ridge as the temperature was again pushing 80.
The last 1300 ft nearly did me in, but I saved enough energy to properly explore not only Image Lake but the Miner’s Ridge Lookout Tower at 6210 ft. I was the only human up there and it was an amazingly beautiful day. This is why we backpack. The view of Glacier Peak is the highlight, the pan at the top gives you the full perspective.
There was only snow at the top and Brook was loving it. Here Brook wants to go after a marmot on the other side of the lake.
The rest of the photos will speak for themselves.
Descending back to my campsite nearly did me in, thank goodness it was downhill. But on this second night I was really beat, no appetite either, but a serious thirst that I needed to quench. I put the fly on earlier and decided to leave it which allowed me to just sleep on top of my bag all night. Brook woke me at 5:00 am and I felt good so we hit the trail by 6:30 am. The hike back was uneventful but I continued to realize that my body was benefitting from this extreme exercise. I am writing this post because I am too tired to do anything else. I am going to sleep good tonight. I think I am ready for retirement.
I retire on June 30th, but the term “retire” doesn’t really fit. I’ve tried to label this end of my one year contract to serve as the Interim CIO at Western Washington University as my official retirement. But what is retirement? I think I’m OK with just transitioning into my next job which happens to be the more serious pursuit of or the return to nature. And backpacking is my enabler for doing that.
The common question of what will I be doing next is answered with “I’m going backpacking”, but few have any clue what that really means. And of course going backpacking could be equated to varying definitions. Many ask if that means I will backpack the PCT or the Appalachian Trails. So I try to explain that I just want to be more serious and deliberate about backpacking to wherever opportunities takes me. If the conversation progresses it typically ends with some dismay that I actually will be doing this alone with my dog. And I have to admit that I’m not sure how to explain why I want to do this. However, I just read a blog post by Cam Honan, author of “The Hiking Life” entitled “A Natural Progression“ which is the best description I have ever read about why I am drawn to the wilderness. He breaks it down to “From Stanger to Guest to Family Member”. This paragraph from his post sums up why retirement will allow me to return to my “Family”.
From an intangible perspective, feelings of separation have disappeared, replaced instead by a sense of union with your surroundings. You have come home, and in so doing realised that your spirit never really left. Our connection with the natural world is innate, so while it may seem like Mother Nature is teaching, I’ve long suspected she is simply reminding. Providing the key so that we ourselves can unlock a part of us that has always been there. And I can’t think of too many gifts that are greater than that.
I thank Cam for putting into to words what I feel. The opportunity to be a part of this wilderness family is as good as it gets. Tomorrow I will reclimb Goat Mountain to get my own gauge on the snowpack in the North Cascades. The Adventure Continues
April 15-16, 2017, camped at Canyon Creek.
Finally a fairly nice weekend in 2017 for a backpacking trip with my Australian Shepard, Brook. She is about 17 months old with some backpacking experience, however, this would be her first with the responsibility to carry her own pack. All of this is in preparation for more extended trips as soon as I retire again at the end of June. I decided to take on the Suiattle River Trail because of the relatively low elevation which I assumed would bode well for snow level. Turns out there was no snow all the way to PCT mile mark 2540. The trail was actually fairy dry and the stream crossings were all easy.
The 23 mile drive in on FR 26 turned out to be uneventful as well. There are enough potholes on the second half gravel portion to force you to keep your speed down, but overall the road was in good shape. Only a couple of cars at the trailhead and I only saw 10 people all weekend. River trails tend to be fairly level with occasional views of the river but rarely any scenic vistas. That would hold true for this Trail, however, the lush green vegetation with many beautiful stream crossings offers its own unique charm.
The real goal for this trip was to test Brook’s interest and ability to be my backpacking buddy. I put a full 32 oz Nalgene in each side of her Ruffwear Palisades Pack. She was not thrilled by this requirement to carry her own pack, but she was committed to pleasing me. She figured out what her cadence would be and soon she was in total work mode never straying more than a few feet from my heels. Actually, I am very proud of how she handled this. You don’t train an Aussie as much as you provide opportunities for them to learn. She totally understands the purpose of the backpack now and I believe is honored to have the responsibility.
The hike into Canyon Creek was relatively easy, which I am extremely grateful for considering I am still just a (old) weekend warrior right now. Considering 7 miles in and then an extra 3 miles up the PCT and 7 miles out on Sunday, my slightly sore muscles are not bad at all. The stream crossings we both beautiful and relatively easy.
The campsite was primo with an excellent fire pit, unfortunately, I did not plan for a fire and failed in trying to start one with only a bit of toilet paper and a few matches. Brook managed the campsite with great dedication and thankfully did not find anything with sweet dog aroma to roll in. Temps got down to about 35 but Brook did not get cold and I love my new REI Magma 10 sleeping bag. Brook did enjoy snuggling next to me but was very well behaved inside the tent. It was a great weekend trip on a very beautiful wilderness trail. I am all the more motivated for retirement now.
I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,
the second I explored what I wanted to do,
the third I paid my dues
and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.
It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.
It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.
At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.
A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.
In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.
The first ski day is always hard on the body. Generally you try to make it into the afternoon before the screaming pain in your thighs finally does you in. This is only amplified as you get older so I thought I would reflect on how my 62-year-old body with 2 artificial hips handled this awesome first day of skiing here at Mt. Baker Ski Area which is really on Mt. Shuksan. The most critical requirement for skiing at my age is believing that I can. Then I think it is critical to insure that you choose a day with optimal conditions. So when the snow began piling up on the North Cascades I started watching for that perfect ski day. Bang, Tuesday had no important meetings, it was supposed to be sunny and only 20 degrees on the mountain. The fact that there was not any wind was a pure bonus. So you commit and then float some suggestions to your friends that you plan on doing this. However, you have to balance skiing with someone who might hold you back with the advantage of someone who knows the mountain. I was totally prepared to ski it alone, but if you do that it is likely that your actual skiing experience will suffer. Luckily I scored a ski companion (one of my employees) who was also a local ski instructor which translated into the ultimate ski experience.
It is about an hour and half drive from Bellingham to the Mt. Baker Ski area and we arrived near opening which gained us an excellent parking spot and confirmation that skiing on a Tuesday was not going to be crowded. I have skied most of my life but I have never been a die-hard skier. Yes, I lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, but even then I only skied when conditions were perfect, maybe 5-6 times a year. That is partly because I devoted equal time to cross-country skiing. Skiing for me is not about a commitment to the craft but instead about the glorious experience of gliding on snow while observing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Dealing with cold and fatigue is just part of the price for the chance to experience yet another epic day in God’s glorious kingdom.
How about that view, wow, you come off the lift and take this in before every run. This was so cool because I had a tour guide who could tell the names of all those mountains and help me understand where I have been hiking through my many outings up here at the Mt Baker Wilderness earlier this Fall.
I want to call attention to the photo on the right showing Mt Herman and the saddle over to Table Mountain, location of my first hikes in this area. Now, back to the skiing. Conditions were perfect and I did feel comfortable cruising along on blue runs. I did try to hit some bumps and powder, but age does create limitations. I have mentioned that I have 2 artificial hips which are wonderful, however, the muscles around those hips have never been as strong probably due to being filleted open for the surgery. Combine weaker muscles with the reality that you do not want to crash and dislocate one of those hips and I wisely avoided straying to far from the safe cruising runs. Overall, I was very pleased with my body on this first day out. My transition to hiking and backpacking and raising a dog with incredible amount of energy has prepared me well for this ski day. I really felt great and was able to push myself almost to closing. The beer in the lodge at the end of the day was perfect as well.
Life got busy in the last few months and backpacking trips have paid the price. My commitment as the Interim CIO for Western Washington University is a priority but weekends were still options. However, I gladly give up weekends for visits from friends and family. Weather has deteriorated so spending a night in a rainy cloud isn’t justified. And then there is my now 11 month old puppy, Brook, who needs daily exercise which helps justify some nice day hikes.
But even Brook sabotaged a weekend backpacking trip when she came down with Kennel Cough. So this post is a compilation of life without backpacking over the last few months.
We hiked up to Raptor Ridge in the Chuckanut Mountain trail system. I would have loved to have seen the view on a clear day but the exercise was good although these more local urban trails tend to bring out people who are not so friendly to dogs. Unfortunately Brook needs to evaluate every human and if you don’t acknowledge her or at least smile she will confront, not attack, and this does cause a few unhappy people to express their disapproval.
Oh well, these are learning opportunities for Brook and she has made incredible progress breaking down her herding instincts to be a very friendly and charming dog.
I have been able to play some golf although sometimes in the rain. My weekly Tuesday evening tee time has moved from 5:30 to 4:30. And there are golf courses with good drainage around here so I expect I will get some golf in throughout the winter. I did take off a day from work to enjoy a beautiful sunny autumn day to hike to Lake Ann under the shadow of Mt Shuksan. This is a great hike 8 mile hike down then up. The lake is nice but the view below Mt Shuksan and the view of Mt. Baker in the distance is breathtaking.
Getting away for real hikes with vertical does keep my body in good spirits, however, daily exercise typically consists of walking Brook morning noon and evening,
typically up to our neighborhood Broadway Park where an occasional sunrise says good morning or plenty of dog friends help Brook burn off that puppy energy during the evening walk.
I also got to attend a conference for the State of Washington IT professionals at Chelan, WA. I have never been to Lake Chelan and I discovered it is a beautiful as you could imagine. Unfortunately it is somewhat in the middle of nowhere, but that drive to nowhere is a major treat. I drove over via highway 20 skirting the North Cascades National Park and then over Rainy and Washington Pass. The drive over in a heavy rain was a bit precarious, however, I was rewarded with scenic vistas of what they refer to as the American Alps on my return trip.
I was all set to backpack to Yellow Aster Butte until Brook came down with Kennel Cough on a friday and I dealt with her coughing up a lot of phlegm all night long.
However, Brook recovered quickly and we headed off to do the 7 mile Yellow Aster Butte trail on Sunday after watching my Broncos win.
Unfortunately I did not hit the trail until 3 pm but I did get most of the trail in before having to turn around to get back to the car by dark.
Brook had no problem with the hike after a quick recovery from her cold. The trail is known for the autumn colors provided by various ground cover. Brook highlights it a bit with her pose. I also was able to get in another day hike up to Ptarmigan Ridge to take in more glorious views of Mt Shuksan. Late season blueberries were a bonus.
I had planned to backpack Ptarmigan Ridge about a month ago but my dog, Brook, chewed off my waist strap on my backpack the day before so we day hiked Chain Lakes and then Table Mtn.
Well last weekend we did Ptarmigan Ridge and I am glad we waited. The weather was acceptable but not perfect which helps you appreciate it all the more. Plus the crowds were not out in force, maybe 4 other campsites in the Camp Kiser area.
The hike itself is pretty well documented, seems like every mile is a milestone where one can justify turning around, but I think going all the way to the Portals makes it truly the Ptarmigan Ridge hike. This hike is about being exposed and above the tree line, especially in the Camp Kiser area. Mt. Baker loves to hide behind the clouds but will show his face occasionally. I was surprised to see single mountain goats in two places and of course a large herd in the valley below.
I camped on the NW side of Camp Kiser by an outcropping overlooking the valley, (48.81546, -121.76105).
The view of Mt Baker to the South and the Bar Stream Valley below with Skyline Divide on the other side was awesome.
Video of Brook and I taking in the View
Brook and I had a perfect evening taking in the view complete with a unique sunset. However, the night brought higher winds and colder temperatures which I think Brook began to question as to why were we there.
The morning was cold but clear with a short glimpse of Mt. Baker. The hike back to Artist Point parking lot was just beautiful.
Overall an extremely enjoyable trip with no bugs, good trail but winter’s chill did say hello by morning light.