Category Archives: Brook

McNeil Point at Mt Hood

IMG_1558Why did it take me so long to get to McNeil Point. I don’t think a campsite next to Mt Hood can get any better. Yes, I have hiked past the trail to McNeil Point a number of times, each time saying that I should go check it out, only to rationalize that I have to move on. Well finally I planned a trip specifically for McNeil Point, and when you have the luxury of choosing how and when you tend to end up with one of those awesome experiences. As a backpacker in the Pacific Northwest, October signals that you better make the most of any good days left for high country packing. McNeil Point was the perfect choice and to do it on a weekday is probably the only way I would have been able to get a spot to park at the Top Spur Trailhead.

View from Bald Mountain

View from Bald Mountain

This was the first time I have used the Top Spur Trailhead and yes the parking area is small, but the access and road conditions are great by forest road standards. The overall hike to McNeil Point is about 5 miles and 2000′ vertical but it is an excellent trail with only a moderate incline. The hike is broken up into nice chunks with the first required option taking the loop around Bald Mountain. Again, why have I not taken that little detour when I was doing the Timberline Trail. You take in the view and then use the Cutoff Trail to get back over to clockwise Timberline Trail.

Now you get to climb a ridge trail for a little over a mile up to the next gorgeous view of McNeil Point next to Mt Hood. This was my previous Mt Hood view highlight from my Timberline Trail trips.

First view of McNeil Point

First view of McNeil Point

Back into the forest where the ground foliage autumn colors are starting turn. Shortly after this view you have the choice to take the IMG_1545short but steeper trail up to McNeil Point. I decided against that option not since the other route is so nice and relatively easy. This section over to the McNeil Point trail is the area where Brook got lost on my Timberline Trail trip a month ago. I think she remembered it. She has definitely stayed much closer to me since. It was afternoon so I was mostly meeting day hikers coming down. It is always interesting to observe their response to telling them that you plan on camping at McNeil. Some think you are crazy and some are totally envious.

IMG_1561So on up to McNeil Point on a beautiful trail up a ridge line and then cutting over to an option to the shelter or up above.

View from above the McNeil Pt Shelter

View from above the McNeil Pt Shelter

I arrived around 3 pm and spent about an hour hiking up and down the ridge above the shelter looking for the optimum campsite. The wind was going to be a factor so I was looking for wind shelter but I also wanted a view of the mountain.

I settled on a spot not to far above the shelter which gave me the mountain view along with a good valley view. There are a number of sites with rock walls and I do believe the wind break helped a lot throughout the windy night. The next few hours I just enjoyed how fabulous this view was.

There were a number of bird flyovers that highlighted the view.

The wind was on and off but each time it came I feared it would escalate, but it never did.

IMG_1642Actually the wind probably kept the temperature a few degrees warmer. It only got down to about 30 F during the night. I was hopeful for a great sunset but it was nice that it ended quickly because I was freezing outside of my tent waiting for it.

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I did not sleep that well probably due a bit to the altitude, 6200′, or the noise the wind made flapping my tent. But overall it was a good night and as usual Brook slept out in the open making sure I was safe. Knowing that she would do this I gave her a serving of beef stroganoff on top of her dog food to make sure she had plenty of fuel to keep herself warm through the night.

IMG_1699Morning came and Brook was good to go. On the way back I captured the mini Ramona Falls in its full glory.

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Brook was unusually friendly on the way out in greeting the few day hikers heading up to McNeil, but she was a tired pup.

 

 

Smokey Goat Rocks

If I had not experienced Goat Rocks in perfect conditions 4 years ago I would have been more then satisfied with my recent visit, however, the smoke, heat and bugs did detract a bit from the overall experience. We were originally going to enter Goat Rocks from the north doing a loop by Lost Lake with a return on Trail 61 at Tieton Pass.

GoatRidgeViewofOldSnowy

Old Smokey from Goat Ridge

However, the Miriam Fire was too much of a risk so we entered from the Berry Patch Trailhead via Goat Ridge and out by way of Snowgrass Flats. I would recommend the reverse direction entering on the Snowgrass Flats side since the climb is more gradual.

We got a late start so we were looking for a place to camp as we approached Jordan Basin but we needed to find water which first comes available as you leave the trees. The climb on a very hot Tuesday afternoon with many bugs was a bit of a challenge.

ApproachingJordanBasin

Approaching Jordan Basin on the Goat Ridge Trail

Camping on Goat Ridge turned out to be really nice with the view down the valley with a smoke laced sunset.

We knew what campsite we wanted near Goat Lake so the relatively short hike over on Wednesday would give us a good shot at getting the spot below Goat Lake next to the water fall. JordanBasinActually the Jordan Basin offers a number of great campsites as well as good options above toward Hawkeye Point.

Old Smokey From near Hawkeye Point

Old Smokey From near Hawkeye Point

GoatRiverBasin

Brook @AussieBrook was in heaven taking care of her herd of humans.

Coming over the pass to Trail 86 we realized that smoke was going to keep us from the fabulous views of Mt. Adams.

A Pan of Goat Lake

A Pan of Goat Lake

Goat Lake still had some ice which ensures that the water is as cold as it can get.

From our campsite the view down the Goat River Valley should be topped with a view of Mt. Adams.

Last Snow Bridge

Last Snow Bridge

It was still a fabulous view and the stream to water fall offered a cool little canyon to help fight the heat. Wednesday evening we were treated to a good view of about 20 mountain goats above us.

Good to see the Mountain Goats

Good to see the Mountain Goats

We ended up staying at this campsite for 2 nights as we use the days for day hikes to Hawkeye Point and over to the PCT. Actually we were planning on going to Old Smokey, however, the smoke was really bad on Thursday so we turned around at the PCT junction at the bypass trail. We were planning on camping Friday over toward Cispus Pass but again the smoke, heat and bugs convinced us to just cut the trip short and hike out on Friday. MorningSunBeamsThe morning sunrise was sprinkled with sunbeams through the smoke. The hike out was essentially all down hill with a ridiculous number of flies bouncing off our bodies. LookingBackOnGoatFallsWe did feel sorry for the many backpackers coming into the Goat Rocks area on Friday since the area was already full of people.

LastLook

Last view of Goat Lake Basin

Hopefully they got a little rain from the front that was coming in, maybe it would even clean out the air for that exception view.OldBackpackers

Colorado Backpacking Adventure

  • 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.

    Palouse Falls

    Palouse Falls

    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.

    Montana Smoke

    Montana Smoke

    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.

    Backpacking Car

    Backpacking Car

    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.

    Zirkel Wilderness

    Blueberry PancakesThe 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.

    Mica Lake

    SlavoniaTrailhead

    Slavonia Trailhead

    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.

    Mica Lake Pan

    Mica 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.

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    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.

    Rabbit Ears

    John was recovering from some serious medical conditions but was making incredible progress so we were able to push his body more each day.

    RabbitEarsGregBrook

    Rabbit Ears

    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. RabbitEarsSmokeA 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.

    Gilpin Lake

    Gilpin Lake

    Wyoming Trail

    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.

    On Watch

    On Watch

    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.

    Wyoming Trail

    Wyoming Trail

    Welcomed Sign

    Welcomed Sign

    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.

    Greg Selfie on Wyoming Trail

    Greg on Wyoming Trail

    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.

    I came out of the wilderness in time to pickup Bob, my backpacking friend from Oregon who was flying in for a week.

    Mount Werner

    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.

    Yampa Valley

    Yampa Valley

    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.

    Flattops

    Flattops Pan

    View back toward Stillwater Reservoir

    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.

    Snow on the Climb

    Snow on the Climb

    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.

    Hooper Lake

    Hooper Lake

    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.

    Hooper Lake Pan

    Sunrise at Hooper Lake

    Mount Zirkel Goal

    Stream Crossing before Gilpin Lake

    Stream Crossing before Gilpin Lake

    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.

    Gilpin Lake

    Gilpin Lake

    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.

    Greg & Brook above Gilpin Lake

    Greg & Brook above Gilpin Lake

    And then down into the Gold Creek meadow.

    Gold Creek Meadow

    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.

    Campfire at Gold Creek

    Campfire at Gold Creek

    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.

    Gold Creek Meadow Snow Pan

    Gold Creek Meadow after the Snow

    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.

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    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.

    Made It Out

    Made It Out

    Now back to Steamboat to recuperate and prepare for the hike I had anticipated the most, the Devil’s Causeway.

    Warming Up

    A Long Way from Waking Up in the Snow

    The jacuzzi at our hotel was so wonderful.

    Devil’s Causeway

    Colorado Aspens

    Colorado Aspens

    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.

    Stillwater Reservoir

    Stillwater Reservoir

    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.

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    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.

    Greg & Brook at Causeway

    Greg & Brook at Causeway

    Trip Home

    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.

    Car vs Deer

    Car vs Deer

    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.

Timberline Trail

Starting out at Timberline Lodge

Starting out at Timberline Lodge

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

Randy “Rebo” Berton

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.

Brook before Paradise ParkBrook looking down at the Little Zigzag Canyon

Above Little Zigzag Canyon

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.

Sandy River Crossing

Sandy River Crossing

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.

Ramona Falls

Ramona Falls

Bridge at Ramona Falls

Bridge at Ramona Falls

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. Refreshing BreakBefore 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. Climbing to High PointThis 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.

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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.Sunrise on the east side of Mt. HoodLuckily 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.

 

Three Sisters Wilderness on the PCT

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.

Brook with Sunrise over Mt Bachelor

Brook with Sunrise over Mt Bachelor

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.

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Mirror Lake

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.

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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.

Brook at Sawyer Bar

Brook at Sawyer Bar

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.

West Fork Wallowa River Trail – Ice Lake

Ice Lake

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.

Bridge over Wallowa River

Brook is not sure about this

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.

Ice Lake Reflections

Ice Lake Reflections

The climb to Ice Lake is packed with photo opportunities, here is a sampling.

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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.

IMG_2200My 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.

Six Mile Meadow

Six Mile Meadow

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.

Trail to Frazier Lake

Trail to Frazier Lake

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.

Sweet Campsite

Sweet Campsite

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.

Image Lake via Suiattle River Trail

Glacier Peak Pan

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.

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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. CampsiteI 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. SelfieInSunThe 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.

FirstGlimpseGlacier

First Glimpse of Glacier Peak

I knocked off about 2000 ft to Miner’s Ridge as the temperature was again pushing 80.

SecondGlimpseGlacier

Second Glimpse of Glacier Peak

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.

SuiattleRiverDrainage

The Suiattle River Drainage was also breathtaking

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.

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The rest of the photos will speak for themselves.

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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.

What Retirement Means to Me

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” entitledA 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

 

Whatcom Lake Park to Stewart Mountain

Lake Whatcom Park near Bellingham, WA, must be somewhat of a secret since I just discovered it after 11 months of seeking out every good dog friendly hiking trail in the Bellingham area. All good though, the park is primarily known for its really nice and easy Hertz Trail along the lake. What I needed and the basis for this trip report is the trail that leads to Mt Stewart essentially parallel to the Wickersham Truck Road that begins at the end of P2 parking area. The road would continue but it is gated and the trail leads off from the NW corner of the parking area. You can also just hike the road but that is in high demand by the mountain bikers.

The trail winds through various densities of forest occasionally crossing the road. At the first road crossing you need to follow the road up about 100 ft to an opening on the left where you will pick up the trail again. The second road crossing is more obvious that the trail continues on the other side. That is not the case for the second half of the trip.

BrookMoss

@Aussiebrook was very pleased with this trail

After a couple of road crossings you hit an extended stretch of trail that takes you to a smaller road spur. This section of trail is really nice offering significant flower cover. Turn right for the scenic overlook and left to find the trail again after a few 100 feet.WhatcomLake

The overlook is essentially at the end of the offshoot spur road. You have a excellent view of both ends of Lake Whatcom as well as Bellingham and the North Puget Sound. This site appears that it has been used for some overnights.

ViewPan

Panoramic View of Lake Whatcom

I was going to give up assuming that this was the end of the trail, however, I did find the next section that reconnected with the road. At that point you need to climb on the road up to the next turn where you can pick up the trail again.

ViewUpperTrailThis last section of trail offers occasional views of the lake but again you come out on the road. HighRoadFrom here on I did not find any further trail options, the land contour did not lend itself to more trail connects, however the road was more like a trail. You then merge with the power lines which is a bit concerning because of the loud static crackling from the high voltage electricity transmission taking place. Oh well, I guess we got a charge out of it. Here you have a combination of some clear cut and major power line right of way up and over Mt Stewart. PowerLines

The view is more impressive for distance, however, I rate the lower lake overlook as the prize view. The real value of this trail for me was the great exercise with approximately 2500 ft vertical. Also very little traffic on the trail since access to the lower lake trail is what dominates the available parking. This is exactly the training I need to prepare for my next career as a full time backpacker. Plus @AussieBrook loved it.

Suiattle River Trail

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.MasterAndBrook

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. FirstTimeBackpackShe 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. TrailBrookActually, 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.

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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. BrookTentBrook 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.

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