Category Archives: Oregon

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.

 

 

Timberline Trail Revisited 2018

It has been a smokey backpacking year so when we got a break of clean air, @AussieBrook and I decided to go for a proven great trip, so back to do the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood. Here is comparison photo of Mt Hood 3 weeks prior to this trip.

 

I got to Timberline around 1:30 on Labor Day 9/3/18 and it took me about a half hour to find a place to park. This must have been the final day of summer for so many people. But it was a beautiful day and my goal was only to make it to Paradise Park hoping to take in an awesome sunset that night. I got a prime campsite with only a few other campers in the area.

 

IMG_1087And the sunset was awesome.

 

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The next day was going to be the tough one. From Paradise Park down to the Sandy which did not turn out to be a difficult crossing. Then over to Ramona Falls

 

and then up the Ridge finally camping near the Mazama Trail. You need to remember how long that ridge climb is before you get to water. I was beat and ended up going to sleep around 7:00 pm. Brook came by camp to eat her dinner around midnight but she was not around at sun break like she normally is. I didn’t think much about her being away since it probably had to do with her not wanting to wear her backpack, but she was still missing when I got all packed up and ready to go around 8:30. So I got a lot more serious about searching for her. Calling out her name and asking other backpackers if then had seen her, but no luck. OK, I’m starting to get worried. Brook would not run off so my fears led me to think about Brook having a wild animal encounter or getting into some other type of trouble. By 9:30 I was ready to starting hiking back the way we had come but just then a couple showed me a note that they had found on the trail stating that Brook had joined their group and they were headed to Cloud Cap. My heart relaxed and as I turned to head toward Cloud Cap, there she was sitting in the trail. IMG_1206After a joyful reunion we returned to the goal of hiking around Mt Hood. There was more to the story. Thanks to a voicemail and meeting the people who Brook hooked up with, I started to piece together what happened. She had met the folks the day before so felt comfortable trying to herd them up the trail. She must have been having so much fun herding these humans that she forgot about me. Well, from the timeline is appears that once she realized her mistake it took her over an hour to find me. Needless to say she did not venture far from the campsites on the remaining mornings.

My goal for the 3rd day was to get somewhere near Cloud Cap which we mostly did with a nice secluded campsite at the bottom of a rock slide.

 

I think once you make it past Cloud Cap on a clockwise loop hike you have passed most of the difficult water crossings. None were very difficult for me, but Brook did take a swim after slipping off a narrow log crossing. She hates to get wet and she got totally dunked, which did help with her need for a bath. The climb over the high point seems like it should be more difficult then it is, however, it really isn’t that far and the grade of the climb is minimal. As usual the hike along the Eastern side of the mountain presented us with strong winds which were actually much appreciated since it would have been a bit hot without the breeze. My goal for the last night was a campsite on the West side of Newton Creek.

 

We joined many other campers so I had to inform them about how Brook would feel obligated to protect them all. Turns out she made the rounds to visit all the campers but was all business about it. It was here where I met the people who Brook hooked up with so they were extremely happy to see that Brook had found her master. Others on the trail knew that an Australian Shepard had been lost so we got lots of inquiries as to whether Brook was the lost dog. The bar tender at Charlie’s in Government Camp even knew about Brook being lost.

 

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The final hike out on my fifth day was very pleasant even with that brutal climb up to Timberline from the White River. Some of the best waterfalls occur prior to Mt Hood Meadows, plus I love hiking through ski terrain that I know will look a whole lot different come winter.

 

For the second year it was the anticipation of a Burger and Beer at Charlie’s that helped me make it up that final ridge.

Bull of the Woods

My first backpacking trip that I took when I moved to Oregon in 2004 was on the Dickey Creek Trail. IMG_9256I 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. BullWoodsFireSurprisingly 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.

 

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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. IMG_9354The 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. IMG_9363The 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.

Stream near Pansy TH

Stream near Pansy Lake Trailhead

 

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

Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain

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

IMG_9085However, 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.IMG_9079

After taking in the Mirror Lake view you head up trail which consists of one long switchback. IMG_9094You do get glimpses of Mt Hood on the first leg but the real prize awaits you at the top. IMG_9097At 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.

Mt Hood view September 2007

Mt Hood view September 2007

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.

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2018 view of Mt Hood with Mt Rainier hidden back to the left.

You also have a nice view of Mt. Jefferson looking south.

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Mt Jefferson

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. IMG_9122Once 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.

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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.IMG_9226.jpg

IMG_9228.jpgThe 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. IMG_9231A good ending to the trip was a Bleu Burger at Charlie’s in Government Camp.

Rogue River Trail from Grave Creek

Grave Creek Trailhead

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.

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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.

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IMG_8062The 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. IMG_8091.jpg

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. IMG_8143.jpgWe 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. IMG_8151.jpg

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.

North Fork Smith River

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.

View from BLM Rd 28 where I got stuck in the snow.

View from BLM Rd 28 where I got stuck in the snow.

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.

NF Smith TrailheadI 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.

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At about mile 3.5 you get to the second new bridge.

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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.

Campsite under tree cover.

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. NFS-OnWatchBrook 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.

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.

Strong Finish

I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,

the second I explored what I wanted to do,

the third I paid my dues

Professional Greg

Professional Greg

and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.

It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.

It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.

At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.

Fourth Quarter

Fourth Quarter

A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.

In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.

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