Category Archives: PCT
I came across a reference to William O Douglas’s book “Of Men and Mountains” in the “Hi Alpine” blog. The reference related to how William Douglas was at peace on his sick-bed thanks to the memories he had of his extensive exploration of the mountains around his hometown of Yakima, WA. I’m not much of a reader and don’t think I have ever read a book published outside of my lifetime, but this book published in 1950, turned out to be far more relevant to me today than I would have ever imagined.
I thought the book was going to be autobiographical with significant focus on William O Douglas as a Supreme Court Justice, but no, it was really just about his adventures in the wilderness. I immediately found myself fascinated by the challenges of a young man losing his father at an early age growing up in Yakima, WA, in the early 1900’s. I was able to gleam from the few professional references that William Douglas was a true man of integrity and must have been a tremendous Justice, but again the book was about his beloved Pacific Northwest Wilderness.
There were a few references to his wilderness adventures in New England and I loved his recollection of his trip to New York to attend Columbia Law School. He only had a few dollars so he hitched rides on trains across the country. Otherwise his story centered around Yakima in the Cascades and Wallowas. I have backpacked enough in this area to know of his references, but to share in them from a few generations prior was unique. What gear did an early backpacker use: a Nelson, Norwegian or Horseshoe packs. What did they eat: beans, bread, berries and fish. How did they stay dry: sometimes a tent but mostly they relied on the natural coverage of trees or caves. How did they stay warm: many times they didn’t but wool was their main resource. Horses for riding and packing were a part of their experiences. Interactions with Indians, trappers and herders were intriguing. But what I loved most were the recollections of his early backpacking experiences where his youthful enthusian would call into question the wisdom of some of his adventures. I get that, I think back to some of the stupid things I have done in the wilderness and I am thankful to be alive. In fact, I have always shared the kinship of my early adventures with my friend John back in NW Colorado in the 1980’s. We used to joke that we were the last of the true Mountain Men.
Not long after I started reading the book I shared my interest in it with John. I knew he would relate to it as I have, especially the fishing secrets throughout the book. Yes, for us this book is an easy reading escape back to our own wilderness adventures. And when a first edition copy of the book was delivered to my home, it could have only come from my wilderness brother, John. True friendship is as valuable as anything we have and William Douglas shared many of his friendships in this book. I hope you all have friendships built upon wilderness adventures.
It had been 3 weeks since I last escaped to the wilderness so I just had to take advantage of the two day good weather forecast.
I initially tried to select another outing in the Tillamook State Forest since my last trip to Elk Mountain had been so rewarding, but something drew me to higher elevation. What about Mt. Hood, even if it may have gotten some fresh snow. Perfect, I had wanted to check out Paradise Park ever since my PCT segment that took me past the trail loop back in July. From Timberline Lodge it is about 5 miles to where I would want to camp. The Timberline webcams showed melting snow. The forecast called for a clear but cold night so let’s do it.
I packed my warmer bag and my perma-rest air mattress along with adequate warm cloths which turned out to provide sufficient comfort as the temperature may have hit a cold of 30 degrees. After a lunch buffet and IPA at Timberline I was off.
The typical day hike distance to the Zig Zag Canyon overlook and below offered a before and after shot showing just how much the weather changed from the trek in and next day return.
The trail takes you down to the bottom of the canyon and then you get to climb back up, but it went very well with a fresh body.
I was a little slower on the return trip as I was feeling some tired muscles. Hiking in late October does not provide the lush foliage but it was just as interesting seeing the mountain prepare for its winter blanket. I arrived at Paradise Park around 4:30 pm.
I scouted the terrain quickly selecting a campsite with a view and accepting the consequences of a cold wind. The October evening was playing out way to fast. I had to enjoy the view but I also needed to setup camp.
Then a family of deer, 4 doe and a young buck strolled by. They stood near looking at me as if to say, “what are you doing here”.
Back to the view, which was highlighted by the clouds opening to a valley exploding with sun rays. I had no idea what lay behind me as Mt. Hood was engulfed in a cloud. However, the hopes for a glorious sunset were high, but the temperature was dropping rapidly. The sunset did turn out to be unique but it was not photogenic due to the light sky above. The cold drove me into the tent where it seemed like I might be in for an uncomfortable evening.
It turned out to be just fine after I closed my air vents and put on a second pair of socks. It seemed like it was coldest at about 10 pm and then the wind shifted from the east. I wanted to enjoy the almost super moon rising over Mt. Hood but it was just too cold.
When I got up around 3 am it was awesome, a bit warmer and the moonlight exposing a clear Mt. Hood was gorgeous.
Morning brought a reluctance to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag even though the sunrise potential with a clear Mt. Hood was high. I quickly took it in and then slept in until 8ish. The sun was quickly providing welcome warmth allowing for a pleasant coffee and hot chocolate wakeup.
I hung around most of the morning enjoying the view from Paradise.
The hike back offered numerous views of Mt. Hood and Jefferson which I cherished via my many stops for rest.
The impulse backpacking escape turned out to be perfect.
I am so grateful to be able to take advantage of God’s gift to us.
I backpacked the Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass, PCT Washington Segment J from Aug. 8-16, 2015. It is 71 miles and over 18,000 vertical. This trip on the heals of my Spider Gap Buck Creek loop was challenging in many ways, most of which was related to heat, lack of water, lots of vertical and smokey conditions. Overall though it is a very dramatic PCT segment complete with very rugged and beautiful terrain.
Starting off at the Stevens Pass Ski area was kind of cool thinking about how I might ski those runs that I was hiking. I was also treated to an abundance of huckleberry and blueberries for the first couple of days.
My second day I had my sights set for a campsite on top of a mountain but along the way I passed many lakes of which I think the most beautiful was Mig Lake.
At my mountain top campsite at PCT 2450 which was after a typical 3000 ft vertical climb day I had Trap Lake behind me and a beautiful sunset waiting ahead of me. One of the best campsites I have chosen.
The following day I planned on camping at Deception Lake, however,
I was not that impressed with the options and I knew it would end up being crowed with the many through hikers now hitting this part of Washington. I pressed on and found a great campsite just south of Deception Creek at PCT 2442. The photo showing the jet exhaust trail represents the many jets that you hear flying over this area out of Seattle. You never see the military jets which fly lower and louder.
The next day I climbed past the Cathedral Rock area but overall I took it easy and ended up at Deep Lake which offered a great site for a swim. Deep Lake still had water flow but it was low and the lake was warming up.
I knew that I had a tough high vertical day coming up so I also took it a bit easy the following day in preparation to climb over Escondido Pass. I knew that water was going to be an issue and when I realized that my Camelbak bladder had leaked I was a bit concerned.
I did find a trickle of a stream where I filled up a Nalgene liter but I would need more. This was a long and exposed segment that turned out to be on one of the hottest days along with a lot of smoke sneaking into the area from the Washington forest fires.
There are a couple of dead lakes on top but who wants to drink warm water. It turned out that I did not have enough water or energy which made for a very difficult day. Boy was I happy when I finally got to a cool stream over near Lemah Meadows. I setup camp as it was getting dark and I collapsed for a night’s sleep to recharge. I did experience an interesting event that night as I believe a large buck must have been startled by my tent which was fairly near the trail. This was at 1:30 am and this buck sounded like he raised up and pounded his hooves 3 times right next to my tent. Nothing I could do but just lay there. Or maybe it was just a very real dream.
I took it easy the next day in preparation for more climbing.
My plan was to camp near the Park Lakes area which turned out to be as far as I could get before the rain set in.
In all of my backpacking I have been extremely fortunate with respect to weather, rarely have I endured a serious rain. Well that all changed with a night of wind and rain which was sorely needed by the draught stricken mountains. I did choose a good campsite next to a lake on top of ground shrubs which made for good drainage for the night long rain. The video gives you an idea of how pleasant the night long rain was.
The following day turned out to be a lot tougher then I expected, lots of up and downs, but the misty weather made for excellent hiking conditions.
This is very scenic terrain and doing it in the clouds made for a unique day. Again my day stretched to the end of my energy just in time to make camp at Ridge Lake, just before it started raining again.
Not so bad, just persistent. But this was my last night on the PCT since Snoqualmie Pass was over the next pass. Of course the sun came out just as I got on the trail. It would have been nice to have had the sun to dry some things out before heading out.
However, the rain brought crystal clear air for some of the most beautiful terrain left on the segment. This is a very popular day hike segment for the Seattle folks so I passed hundreds of them as I headed down to Snoqualmie Pass.
Then you see Mt. Rainier and you can get cell service. This all translated into a wonderful finish to this PCT segment. After getting my resupply at the Chevron Station and showering I enjoyed a few craft beers from the Dru Bru Brewery.
I am sorry for being a bit late on posting about our Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop trip, Aug 1-6. As expected this loop was amazing and lived up to our high expectations.
Every year I do a loop like this with friends and when we have asked other backpackers what they believe to be the best loop, Spider Gap Buck Creek tends to be the winner. And it is truly an awesome loop complete with incredible vistas, challenging climbs and unique topography.
We decided to take the counter clockwise route beginning with the Spider Meadow Phelps Creek trail. The meadow was beautiful but it was obvious that we had missed the high flower point by a few weeks.
Taking it easy the first day we planned for the Spider Gap climb which is broken into an initial 1000 ft climb on a fairly rugged rock trail and then another 1000 ft climb on up the snow field. The reward at the top was worth the climb.
The view into the Lyman Lakes Valley and Glacier was highlighted by rugged terrain which turned out to offer up a bit of a scare to us. We made the mistake of assuming the trail to the east would eventually wind down to the valley. Wrong, so I advised that we backtrack and go down the snow field. Unfortunately, Bob, who hates to backtrack decided to take the short cut down the mountain slope. This was not communicated well and we ended up getting separated from Bob.
The outcome of this turned into a nervous search for Bob who did eventually turn up to relieve our fears after he had a bit of a hair raising decent down the side of the mountain ending up further down the valley. Our concern stemmed from the dangerous loose rock navigation that could easily result in a slid or a fall. But all was well and we settled in between the Lyman Lakes.
The following day took us over Cloudy Pass which lived up to its name. This is also about the time we began enjoying an over abundance of blueberries and huckleberries. Again we kept losing Bob because he couldn’t resist stopping and eating the berries.
This is when we first saw the fires which have wreaked havoc with the PCT Trail closure. At this time the big fires over at Lake Chelan had not blown up yet. As we climbed over the pass we got to speak with many of the local Whistle Pig population.
This was also when we discovered that the detour to Stehekin was no longer an option for the PCT’ers. We went about half way to Image Lake and turned around figuring that the weather was not going to present us with enough reward. After talking to others who went over I think it was the right decision.
We camped across from Fortress Mountain. This was the Suiattle Pass Junction area where the PCT closure was spelled out.
We continued on with our loop up to Buck Creek Pass knowing that we would have time for a side hike. We setup camp at the top of the pass while the weather still looked good and we decided to do the Liberty Cap trail.
I highly recommend this route which offers fabulous views of Glacier Peak.
Well the weather started to change once we got up on Liberty Cap which caused us some concern but also offered beauty in the cloud formations.
We got back to camp just in time to avoid the rain.
The next morning it was still miserable on the pass but we could see that there was sun in the valley on our route back to the Trinity Trailhead. The annual backpacking loop trip with friends was again a great success, however, this year I was set to continue on for a few more weeks.
My original plan was to get my resupply and go from Stevens Pass to Canada, however, the fires forced a change to that strategy. So I decided to go from Stevens Pass to Snoqualmie Pass for my next segment.
I have been off the trail for 2 weeks and it seems like an eternity. I’m not sure if I just miss the wilderness or I am just overly pumped for the upcoming longer commitment. It was insightful to go through the planning steps for coordinating a month on the trail and sending off resupply boxes. I have an even greater respect for the PCT through hikers who figure this out for many months. But I am ready to go. The Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop with friends will be fabulous and then on to Canada on the PCT. Thankfully it appears the forest fires are under control.
In preparation for this next backpacking commitment I have been fortunate to spend about a week down at our townhouse in Neskowin. We have a 1/12 fractional share which is priceless (there may be a share for sale) The weather has been fabulous and the hiking opportunities around Neskowin are as good as it gets for the Oregon Coast. Let me give you a glimpse of my hiking preparation over the last 3 or 4 days.
Hiking the beach is always great exercise by way of distance and solitude. Rarely are there any other humans once you get a mile or so north of Neskowin. Hiking on Cascade Head should always be done either from above or below.
My daughter motivated me to go for a longer hike so we opted for the trails behind Cape Pepetua scenic coastline. On the drive down we needed to stop at Cape Foulweather because the view is awesome. The Cape Perpetua coastline is considered the most beautiful in America and the hiking trails in the Siuslaw National Forest offer exposure to impressive old growth forests.
The unexpected hiking delight turned out to be the Thumb Trail which is a little known trail that starts at the end of Roads End in Lincoln City. A short hike with some serious technical climb to the Thumb but the view is second to none on the coast.
This discovery was extra special since it gave me a view of Cascade Head from the South.
This area is not really setup for serious traffic so please take care of this gem. The top of the Thumb is a bit dangerous especially with strong winds, it drops off on 3 sides.
Is this too good to be true?
My backpacking schedule for August has been confirmed. August 1-7 I am doing Spider Gap Buck Creek Loop near Glacier Peak just Southeast of the PCT providing a great 44 mile loop rated difficult. I will do the loop with friends; Bob and Jeff. Then I will get a ride over to Bellingham, WA, to visit friend John to resupply and prepare for my final solo PCT segment.
August 8th or 9th I will be dropped off at the PCT on Stevens Pass where I will head north to Manning Park Canada, about 200 miles. I will resupply in Stehekin, WA, which is a resort lodge at the North end of Lake Chelan. There are no communications (Phone, Internet) in Stehekin, so I believe I will be off the grid until I get to Canada. I’ll send a post card from Stehekin to let folks know my progress.
I should get back home by the end of August so that I can begin work with Willamette View. So what a great August it should be, about 250 miles of the most beautiful wilderness in America. Can’t wait to be on the trail again.
I will be mentally preparing for this adventure next week on the coast in Neskowin.
My second Oregon PCT segment was excellent, the weather was what you would expect and the scenery was as good as it gets.
Unfortunately when it ended and I returned to the cellular world at the Eagle Creek Trailhead I found out that my beloved old backpacking canine companion, Abby, had died the night before. It was good that I had another 2.5 miles before I got to Cascade Locks, I needed the time to shed tears and reflect on our years together. I am so glad that we got to travel back to Oregon together. Australian Shepherds are incredible dogs and Abby was one of the best.
Back to the Hood to Gorge review. My wife and I spent the night before I departed at Timberline Lodge. Weather was perfect as were the IPAs we consumed in the adirondack chairs observing Mt. Hood. We could see Mt. Jefferson to the South initially but the view faded away into a smoky haze from the fires in southern Oregon.
I departed on July 9th in beautiful weather with no deadlines, just a destination. The PCT from Timberline takes you into the Paradise Park area which is all about majestic views of Mt. Hood. You feel very small underneath the mountain. An afternoon thunder storm brought needed moisture but also motivated me to seek a campsite. A heavy fog moved in which essentially equated to rain all night long. The following day offered more amazing Paradise Park views. This is fairly rugged trail that skirts the many snow melt streams from Hood. The main goal was to have a relaxing lunch at Ramona Falls, however, crossing the headwaters of the Sandy river to get there always presents a challenge.
So when I came out of the forest to greet the Sandy it was obvious that I was not crossing that high volume stream at this PCT designated trail point. When looking for a crossing you head upstream and look for perfectly positioned rocks or hopefully a log assisted crossing.
I found the log/stick crossing that had been thrown together, and although it was a bit scary it turned out to be more then adequate. The reward for the challenging stream crossing is a glorious view of Mt. Hood.
Then on to the ultimate reward of Ramona Falls and I was not disappointed. The sunlight through the trees creates unique highlights of this cascading waterfall.
I needed to put in a few more miles so taking the PCT Ramona Falls alternate trail to the Muddy Fork Junction was a perfect climax to my second day. However, crossing fast flowing stream on a couple of logs was interesting. But more interesting to watch were a couple of endurance runners cross the stream on foot.
The next day, Saturday, was a bit dreary weather wise, but that was OK since it kept down the day hiker population. It was a tough day for distance and vertical, 10 miles of 3000 ft up and about 1500 down. When I passed Lolo Pass I was thinking about putting a long sleeve shirt on which made me wonder about the 4 teenagers who were heading up to Bald Mtn. in shorts and tank tops.
Sunday ushered in a lifting fog which made for an eerie beautiful trail. The body felt good as I was knocking off more vertical before the inevitable drop. I had passed Devil’s Pulpit and Preachers Peak so I was in the mood for a wilderness church setting. About 10:00 am I noticed a side trail which lead to Buck Peak. The trail was OK but narrow and overgrown enough to mean that condensation from the vegetation was going to be soaking. But I sensed its call and a half mile up I was rewarded with His majestic throne’s view of Mt. Hood and Lost Lake. The church service was excellent.
The trail began the inevitable elevation decline to the gorge and with it came an abundance of ripe berries. I had a wonderful afternoon taking my time enjoying the spectacular view of the Eagle Creek canyon and eating plenty of ripe Huckleberries. After arriving at the Indian Springs abandoned campground I opted to continue on another 3 miles to Wahtum Lake. Definitely the right call as the lake campsite was beautiful and the trail there and then on to rejoin the Eagle Creek alternate PCT trail was a more gradual vertical decline complete with beautiful lush waterfall strewn scenery. Oh yes, and plenty of Thimbleberries, a tasty relative of the raspberry.
I knew I was in for a treat from the Eagle Creek canyon trail but little did I know how amazing it would be. My daughter and I hiked up this trail about 10 years ago but stopped short of the really great landmarks. So the ultimate goal is Tunnel Falls, which totally lives up to the hype. Actually the entire Eagle Creek Trail is awesome with many serious waterfalls, good swimming holes, precarious cliff carved trail and great campsites. But Tunnel Falls, Wow.
I knew that my trip would end the next day so I kept looking for the ultimate campsite, but I was getting tired.
Thankfully I kept seeking a better site and ended up with a primo campsite just below 4-Mile Bridge next to this 30+ foot waterfall, Skoonichuk Falls. But it made for a perfect last night on the trail where I was spared the heartbreak of knowing what was happening at the time with my dog, Abby.
The final day took me past High Bridge and Punchbowl Falls, plus greeting about a hundred, mostly day hikers, many with the goal to make it the 6 miles to Tunnel Falls. After receiving the news about Abby I hiked the Columbia River Highway State Trail up to Cascade Locks which provides a very nice view of Bridge of The Gods over to Washington. My wife and daughter were at the PCT Trailhead park by the bridge waiting for me. It was a gorgeous day for a burger and beer as we mourned the loss of our family dog.
My first segment on the PCT taught me a lot, but the most important was that you cannot beat the heat. My goal was Willamette Pass to McKenzie Pass, about 80 miles in 9 days. I aborted after 6 days and about 50 miles after 2 days of 90+ degree heat with thunderstorm humidity did me in. The other lesson taken away was to keep your destination schedule open, since you never know what will affect that schedule.
OK, now for a quick update on what I did accomplish. Remember, I am 61 years old, healthy, but not really in great shape and I have been living at low altitude.
I started off in the afternoon figuring I just needed to get a few miles under my belt to loosen up. I ended up going 5 miles and climbing 1200 vertical to end up at a fabulous overlook campsite. I felt great and was so pumped to be transitioning into this new wilderness mindset.
The second day I enjoyed the comfort of a really nice winter ski cabin to escape the mosquitos and reorganize a bit. I determined that I would camp at the top of the next climb which meant I had to pack more water which I secured at Bobby Lake. I put in 9 miles and more good vertical and the body was responding well. Also to my surprise I had cellular service (maybe from Waldo Lake), although sporadic, but it did allow me to let the world know I was doing OK.
The third day felt good, I get up early to take advantage of early morning coolness which allows you to wear longs sleeves to combat the mosquitos, but that is nothing new, just inconvenient.
I knocked off a number of miles and stopped at Carlton Lake to filter water and cleanup a bit. The mosquitos were getting worse and the breeze off the lake was a a welcome relief.
I was feeling good so a set a goal of another 9 mile day to get to Taylor Lake. Along the way I thanked a trail maintenance team for the work they do and travelled through maybe a 10 year old fire area.
I got to my campsite early afternoon and took advantage of relaxing by Taylor Lake enjoying the mosquito less breeze. This was the first time I realized I had pushed my body to about max, but I could tell that I was able to refresh it with rest.
Around dinner time I was joined by a couple of PCT through hikers, trail names: Ranger and Bubba Gump, which made for good conversation as I compared my PCT adventure to theirs. They may have been one of the first through hikers to reach this far north, however, they skipped the Sierras to avoid the late winter storm.
They did plan to return to do the JMT.
Next day I watched the young buck through hikers leave me in the dust I again felt strong and very satisfied with how my body was responding. However, the temperature was rising and all was about to change. I pushed myself this day for 10 miles and ended up at a campsite totally depleted of energy as the heat was taking a toll on me that I still believed I could plow through. That night we had a thunderstorm which did little to reduce the temperature but it did raise the humidity. The overcast morning made for a warmer and more intense mosquito start to the day. After my initial few miles of enthusiastic trekking my body started rebelling. I was sweating a lot which I think I was replenishing with liquids, but the heat toll was greater then that. I had hoped to put in 12 miles and make it to Elk Lake Resort. However, as my body began to fail, symptoms of heat exhaustion setting in, I made the decision to stop at Dumbbell lake only half way but my only good camp option.
Anyways, wisdom was setting in and I knew I had to back off due to the heat and this lake looked ideal for the swimming potential. So I made camp before noon and focused the afternoon on body recovery. Floating around the lake on my Therma Rest Pad provided a wonderful way to cool down and great relaxation. However, I was now challenged to make my designated destination pickup at Lava Lake Trailhead. Unfortunately, it was still hot and more storm clouds added to the humidity.
The only remaining option which would allow me to complete the planned segment would be to put in 10 miles and summit Koosah Mountain with a difficult 1200 vertical or bailout with a 6 mile mostly downhill trail to Elk Lake Resort.
Well about 4 miles into the effort it was obvious that heat exhaustion was not going to allow me to accomplish the needed goal so Elk Lake it was.
Actually aborting in this way made for a fairly interesting adventure in figuring out how to get home. I hitchhiked from Elk Lake, something I have not done for 40 years. The couple that gave me a ride dropped me off at the Cascade Lake Brewery in Bend, OR. I was able to connect with an old GEOAID colleague who gave me a bed for the night. Then I took a bus shuttle to Gresham, OR, where I caught the MAX light rail train to Hillsboro. All in all, it was a wonderful first phase of the adventure. Backpacking is tough, but the rewards of experiencing God’s earthly beauty justify the effort. I’m ready to hit the trail again in a week after this heat wave subsides.