Category Archives: Backpacking
Another one of those trips that I was denied in the past due to unforeseen events, in this case the Blakenship fire in 2015 that closed the PCT.
So I return to take it on starting at the Suiattle River Trailhead with Rainy Pass as the destination about 58 miles with a stop in Stehekin where a couple of buddies will join me. This trip was made possible thanks to a good friend who gave me a ride from Rainy Pass where I left my car to the Suiattle River TH. I had been on the Suiattle River Trail a couple of times with a great trip to Image Lake, so the first part of this trip was all prep for the climb over Suiattle Pass and on to Rainy Pass.
@AussieBrook and I got to the trailhead late Saturday June 30th but was still able to make it to Canyon Creek for the first night. It rained most of the day, but I was sparred from the rain for most of the hike.
I was impressed with the work done to allow passage through a recent tree slide that blocked the trail. Overall the Suiattle River Trail is one of the finest in Washington.
The goal for Sunday was to get close to Suiattle Pass to prepare for the crossing the following day.
I ended up camping at Miners Creek PCT mile 2549. It was a damp day but again I was sparred from getting wet. Once I got on the PCT I started to encounter the first of the SOBO hikers. At my eventual campsite I met a young man who had been a HS Math Teacher but was now going to hike to Mexico. Unfortunately he had just come off a tough night where he had to make camp on a tuft of snow on Suiattle Pass due to a headache and darkness. I will give that young man a 50% chance of completing the PCT. From these hikers I did learn that there was a lot of snow on Suiattle Pass but at least I should be able to follow their footsteps. I was thinking a mile of so of snow. It was a bummer to wakeup to rain knowing that I would be hiking through snow. After I began my decent north from the pass into the Agnes River drainage I met other hikers who alerted me to the additional 4 miles of snow ahead.
Overall it was about 5 miles of snow with occasional trail breaks. The snow was soft and footing was treacherous, I went down many times. But what a joyous day of rain, wind and snow. And to finish off the day I got to ford a cold stream. I ended up camping at a great established campsite at PCT mile 2557. Checkout this video of Brook scratching her butt. We were fairly soaked but the skies did clear and we woke to relatively dry sunny conditions.
I was so glad that I had started a day early then I originally planned since now I had the option to go to Stehekin on the 4th in preparation to meet my buddies on the 5th.
Plus this stretch along the South Fork of the Agnes was all down hill so we had an easy day except for a treacherous ford at PCT mile 2559. Normally I might put on my crocs for a river ford but this river was roaring and my boots were already wet so I just sloughed my way through. Unfortunately, this river was flowing a bit too strong for my 35 lb dog, Brook. She got fairly nervous as I crossed first to leave my pack in order to come back to lead her. Nope, the current was too strong so I ended up carrying her across. From here on the sun was shining and we started to dry out. Ended up at a nice campsite PCT mile 2564.
Brook was in heaven chasing the many squirrels up trees that were far enough apart to prevent their easy escape.
She tormented the squirrels all waking hours that evening and the following morning.
July 4th we hiked to High Bridge enjoying huckleberries and then catching a ride with a park worker and hit the Stehekin Bakery for lunch. The weather was superb so we thoroughly enjoyed our 24 hrs of rest. I wanted to go to the Ranch for dinner, however, they couldn’t really accommodate Brook. We ended up camping in the Lakeview campground with a Mountain House meal of Beef Stew before hanging out on the deck drinking beer with the many SOBO backpackers.
Also a big thank you to the store manager who was extremely accommodating for all and sold bottle of beer for $2.50.
July 5th my friends; Bob and Pete, arrived on the Lady Express boat at 11:00 am and I made them deal with the National Park campsite permitting for our remaining nights on the PCT portion of the trail inside the NP boundary up to Rainy Pass. We hit the trail in the heat of the afternoon which turned out to be the hottest day of the trip.
We only went about 5 miles to Bridge Creek Camp but with it being uphill it was a good workout.
The following day was again a climb but a beautiful lunch stop at the confluence of Bridge and Maple Creek offered a trip highlight.
We camped that night at Six Mile PCT mile 2583. We had some short rain periods to deal with along with more hungry mosquitoes but we woke up ready to finish the trip on Saturday 7th.
The final stretch offered many scenic views along with a number of interesting stream crossings. Since I had to take my buddies to their car in Chelan, I took the opportunity to stop at the Washington Pass Overlook to take in the American Alps.
My first backpacking trip that I took when I moved to Oregon in 2004 was on the Dickey Creek Trail. I think I found it in a book of hiking trails. It was good but I never got high enough to discover the vista views that are abundant in the Bull of the Woods Wilderness. The ridges that surround the Fire Lookout Tower offer great views. So it was time for a short backpacking trip and the Bull of the Woods area caught my interest. Surprisingly I was not finding that many good trip reports but it did look like the Pansy Lake Trailhead would be a good bet to launch. It appeared that I had a number of loop options but those diminished as I discovered the trails that were not being maintained. I discovered that the Mother Lode fire in 2011 severely impacted the area keeping me from venturing further south. So I adjusted my trip to camp the first night at Lake Lenore and then evaluate if there was more to see for a second night. Link to FS Map with my Route
Hiking to Lake Lenore was a fairly difficult 4.7 mile trek with plenty of vertical and some snow to navigate. The trail was in good condition except for snow on the drop down to the Lake Lenore Trail. There is a nice overlook just after Pansy Lake which worked out well for a lunch break. After that you would occasionally get great views of Mt Jefferson. Once you got to the junction for the Bull of the Woods Trail and the the Mother Lode Trail #558 you got your first view of Mt Hood.
Continuing on to the drop down to the Dickey Creek Trail junction for the Lake Lenore Trail, I had to navigate a fair amount of snow but nothing difficult.
I was planning on camping at the Lake Lenore, however, that whole area below the last ridge was burned from the Mother Lode Fire.
I decided to camp on the ridge which turned out to be just beautiful, but I needed water so I had to hike down to the lake. This hike for water was quite a task as the trail was almost nonexistent on a very steep grade probably due to the fire damage. The forest floor is recovering with small plants but it has a long way to go before trees reappear. Camping on the ridge is a nice option, however, very little flat area for a tent.
Mosquitos are an issue in the Bull of the Woods which is another reason why you may want to camp on high ground where you have a bit of a breeze. But I also love to camp high up with a view and this one gave you the Oregon Cascades. The next day was focused on visiting the Fire Lookout Tower with the option for another night but the options for this area really lean towards a single night trip. The hike back to the fire lookout tower is mostly a return to join the Bull of the Woods Trail. The tower was perfectly located to provide a view of any fire activity from the Sisters to Mt Hood. It is appreciated that the tower is protected in the National Historic Lookout Register. I was the only human at the tower so I thoroughly enjoyed just hanging out taking in the view for a few hours. I took many photos and as with my previous night’s campsite there is fairly good cell service here which I believe is received from Mt Hood. With the cell connection I was able to do a live video on facebook to let all my friends back in the midwest get a taste of the wilderness.
I thought about camping another night but it was early afternoon meaning I needed to accomplish more. I considered another spot down the Bull of the Woods Trail but ended up deciding to head for home by way of cut over trail to the Pansy Lake Trail.
Here are some flower memories.
This trail did have a number of downed trees but none were a problem to climb over. Back to the car and ready for the drive out on NF roads that are in great condition.
Here is a nice post about the History surrounding the Bull of the Woods Fire Lookout By Cheryl Hill, Board Member, Trailkeepers of Oregon
I have backpacked to Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain 3 times now so I figure it is time to do a trip report. This last visit was by far the highlight, partly because I learned some lessons from previous trips. The hike up TDH Mountain passing by Mirror Lake is a moderately difficult:
- Distance: 5.8 miles round-trip to West Summit
- Elevation gain: 1710 feet
- High Point: 4,920 feet
However, the first challenge is getting a parking spot at the trailhead located right on Hwy 26 just before you get to Government Camp and there really aren’t any other options for parking because of the busy divided highway. This is an extremely popular hike primarily for those just wanting to go to Mirror Lake so plan appropriately. The hike up to Mirror Lake about half way in elevation at 4100 feet offers you an option to pass on by or take a loop around the lake. The mirror view of Mt Hood from the south end of the lake on clear calm day can be absolutely stunning.
After taking in the Mirror Lake view you head up trail which consists of one long switchback. You do get glimpses of Mt Hood on the first leg but the real prize awaits you at the top. At the turn there is a large pile of rocks, sort of the ultimate cairn. Take a sharp left and head to the summit. One option I have used on one of my trips with family was to camp at the turn. This is a large relatively flat area with about a 15 minute hike to the summit.
I chose that campsite because on my first trip to the top about 12+ years ago I ended up camping behind the summit on a piece of earth that I was barely able to stretch out on. However, on this recent trip I found the campsites.
You summit on the west end and are greeted with the amazing view of Mt Hood which is just across the valley above Hwy 26. You get a bit of a snow contrast from the 2007 version above. I’m not sure if that was a low snow year but I do believe there should have been more then a few patches of snow up on TDH here at the end of May. Plus, that is not that much snow on Mt Hood for this time of year.
You also have a nice view of Mt. Jefferson looking south.
On a weekend or holiday you will join many other hikers up here but most all are day hikers. Many photographers venture up here for those perfect shots of Mt. Hood. Now for the primo campsites you need to hike on through the rock ridge to the east until you get to the trees. Once there you will be greeted with one great campsite after another with sleeping views of Mt Hood. It was a beautiful day and I had high hopes for an evening viewing Mt. Hood under a full moon, but weather in the mountains can change quickly.
A cloud moved in from the west and all that was left for the sunset was the beam coming up the valley. If I had stayed on the west summit it would have been spectacular but instead I had to accept an evening under a cloud. This cloud did help keep the temperature up and with the slight breeze everything stayed fairly dry. As the morning drew out it felt like the sun was going to burn through and voila, what a spectacular view that would produce.
The cloud hung on in the middle of the valley providing a view of Mt. Hood on a white cloud with Mirror Lake below. So many great photos to take here are some of them.
I did hike on further along the ridge to the east to checkout other great campsites and discover some unique views between various rock formations.
One final shot before heading down.
The hike down is easy but always seems to take longer then you remember the climb, must have something to do with anticipation. I did spot a few trillium and Brook got a good drink back down at Mirror Lake. A good ending to the trip was a Bleu Burger at Charlie’s in Government Camp.
A high school classmate of mine, Susan Clark, proposed to me that I should create a Photo Book of some of my backpacking pictures. Susan put together a template which made it much easier for me to jump in and it has been a lot of fun working with her on this project. The goal was to produce a Photo Book focusing on the images and use enough space to tell the story. The story took on a bit of a motivational message as to why I backpack drawing from my Strong Finish post. So we have ended up with about a 30 page Photo Book with enough story to help one understand where the photos are from and a bit about some of the unique reasons why I was there. And I will admit that I am very pleased with how it turned out thanks to the power and flexibility of Apple’s Pages word processing program. It mostly takes place in 2015 ending with a very dangerous trip I survived on the Lost Coast Trail of Northern California.
At this time I am not sure how many books I will print or exactly what size the book should be, but cost is steering it toward an 8.5×11 landscape for about $25. If you want to buy a book feel free to influence me on how many books to print by sending me an email: email@example.com.
The book draws images from many of my blog posts such as: Three Sisters, Eagle Cap, Goat Rocks, Three Sisters PCT, Timberline to Gorge, Spider Gap, Stevens to Snoqualmie Pass, West Coast Trail, Jefferson Park, Paradise Park, Elk Mountain and The Lost Coast Trail.
* UPDATE * I have received the Second Proof Book on better paper and I like it. So it looks like we have a book to sell. The book costs me $30 and I figure I can send ti to you for $5 so the cost will be $35.
* UPDATE * Alright, my book is available for purchase at amazon for your Kindle or Kindle App. It was very interesting going through the process of publishing a book using Amazon Kindle Direct. All the work was done in creating the book for print. I was then able to use that file to create the Kindle eBook. The price range allowed by Amazon was $2.99-9.99, so I made it 2.99. Then it was interesting to see how they handle the royalties. They pitch the fact that they offer 70% royalties, but that also means that they take 15 cents per MB of download and my book is like 150 MB so it would cost me $21 per book to get 70% royalty. So of course I chose the 35% royalty option. Obviously this type of fee structure does not favor a photo book. Not that I cared about the royalty, but interesting to learn this industry. The important thing is that the book is easily accessed and the photos will look best on a digital display.
Amazon Kindle Link: “A New Path: Finding My Passion in America’s Wilderness“
I do hope that you enjoy this book. Join me in the journey around the Pacific Northwest. The book may look best if viewed on a Computer or a Tablet.
Assuming all of this process continues to be positive I would bet that there will be at least one more book highlighting my backpacking adventures with my Australian Shepard backpacking buddy, Brook @AussieBrook.
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.