Category Archives: Wilderness
LCT with Coosksie Spur Loop
My recent solo return to the Lost Coast Trail carried with it many memories of my failed solo attempt back in December of 2015. My backpacking buddies were not able to accompany me so I was free to relive that 2015 experience on this year’s LCT. Plus the weather was perfect for my 4th adventure on the Lost Coast Trail. My goal for the first night was to get past the first small low tide point which has never been a problem but I wanted to set myself up for the following day to make it past the next larger low tide zone.
I decided to camp at Fourmile Creek to be far enough away from the elephant seals and occasional cow traffic to have a peaceful night’s sleep.
I had set myself up for a leisurely day that would end with getting past the first larger low tide zone toward late afternoon.
I hung out with the Elephant Seals at Punta Gorda Lighthouse for a few hours. BTW – the lighthouse does look better since it has been cleaned up in recent years. The seals were totally lethargic enjoying the sunny beach. Plus I had LCT all to myself, I never saw anyone until my third day. I was Chillaxing.
Low tide was around 6 pm so I knew I could eventually get past the first large low tide section.
That cute old Elephant Seal Girl laying on the trail was definitely making eyes at me.
This coastal area is strikingly beautiful with the crashing waves.
I guess my brain was totally absorbed by the fabulous weather and memories of how I attacked this trail in 2015 because I totally forgot about the impassable zone at Sea Lion Gulch which could have been avoided if I had remembered to take the high trail. This is my fourth LCT trek so I was not checking the map as I diligently as I should have.
So there I was was waiting at the Sea Lion Gulch point waiting for the tide to go out, but I was getting impatient. You cannot walk around this point when it is wet. Those loose pebble rocks are really difficult to walk on.
After slipping a few times on the algae covered rocks I realized that I would have to climb up and over the rocks that define this point. This is doable but I would not advise it for an old guy, however, I did it complete with some nice cuts and bruises.
Then came the long beach hike past Coosksie Creek and onto the safety of Randall Creek. But this was good because this is exactly what I had to do in 2015 when I had to jump into the ocean to get around this point.
I have always been intrigued by these unique striated rock formations.
By now I am starting to realize that my short February day is running low on sunlight and I am more tired than I expected to be so the approach of Randall Creek is highly anticipated.
I was able to set up camp at Randall Creek as darkness fell. The moonlight was still hidden behind the mountains but once the moon appeared it was as if a light was turned on.
I had thought about hiking down to Big Flat before returning to take on the Spanish Ridge – Coosksie Creek Trail but I determined that I needed a Nero Day at Spanish Flat to allow my tired body to recover. Plus this is what I had to do for a rainy day in 2015 so why not spend this glorious day chillaxing.
As you can see the weather was perfect, however, on the evening of Friday 2/18 the humidity spiked and everything got dewy wet. But the weather report called for sun by 9:00 am and that is exactly what happened allowing me to pack up for my reenactment of my 2015 overland escape up Spanish Ridge. I thought about trying to climb straight up as I did in 2015, however, that was aided by the typhoon rated winds. So I opted to take the actual Spanish Ridge Trail 7/10th of a mile back up trail.
My concern was about what condition this trail would be in. It was obvious that it is lightly used but I knew it could be done with or without an actual trail.
Being able to see all of this helped me understand why it had been so treacherous in 2015. The Spanish Creek Canyon forms a natural funnel that allowed the winds to reach extremely high velocity hitting me harder and harder the higher I climbed.
I was having an awesome remembrance while truly enjoying a really beautiful trail.
At 2381′ you reach the junction of the Coosksie Creek Trail which heads north on a ridgeline providing exceptional views of the coastline below.
This trail does give you some vertical and most of the time you know you are on the trail but you also need to interpret the terrain to figure out where the trail should be. Thankfully there are occasional trail markers which give you good confidence boosts. It did turn out to be a long day and I was in need of water as I approached the upper Coosksie Creek where I camped for the night. The next day I would take the Coosksie Spur Trail back to the LCT.
There are more times on the Spur Trail when you wonder where the actual trail is, this is partly due to extra trails created by free range cattle that use the land some of the year. However, you can see where you want to go and the official LCT Map shows you the drainage contours that you need to navigate. I also used a free GPS USGS PDF map on my Avenza App to validate where I was at.
Weather was still great but I knew change was coming. The wind was in my face but no complaints, I was finishing up an awesome adventure.
I got back to my car as rain drops started to fall.
This was my 4th trek on the Lost Coast Trail. My reference to 2015 was about my first attempt “I Lost to the Lost Coast” where everything went bad and I was thankful to have survived. This trek route was almost an exact duplicate of that perilous trek, however, this time the conditions were perfect.
Yellow Aster Butte
My preparation for the 2021 Devils Dome Trek included a day hike up Yellow Aster Butte on 8/29/21 which provided good distance, elevation and beauty. I chose this hike because I never really got to experience the upper portion of the trail back in 2016 due to weather that was not cooperating.
My 2016 hike was later in Autumn and I had gotten a late start that day so I decided not to climb to the upper view with the weather uncertainty. Brook was with me in 2016 and the Autumn colors on that hike were indicative of the trail’s name.
I wanted to get the full Yellow Aster experience and I also needed the workout of 7+ miles and 2500′ vertical climb. A beautiful Day made for a great hike. It was a Sunday so I knew that I would be competing with other hikers for parking and trail space. Many hikers were coming down after spending the night. The trail starts out with many switchbacks giving you awesome views of Mt Baker.
You can count on water from a mini glacier just before the final steep climbs.
The final climb, which is not really up to the Butte but to the peak just to the southeast of it is steep so your heart will be pumping. However, the reward of the 360 degree views are totally worth it.
I was fortunate that the wind was not an issue which made for an enjoyable lunch break at the top. These are the times when you really appreciate access to the mountains here in the North Cascades, I was totally ready for the Devils Dome Trek. The hike back down was predictable with anticipatory thoughts of Beer and Pizza from the North Fork Brewery in Deming on the road back to Bellingham.
Devils Dome Loop – Clockwise
I love multi-day backpacking loop treks and the Devils Dome Loop in the North Cascades turned out to be a jewel. I was a bit surprised to come across it only finding a few trip reports. The distance and vertical are very similar to the Timberline Trail but the the effort was far greater.
Most people approach the loop counterclockwise since the initial 4000′ climb is more moderate thanks to switchbacks. But I opted for the Clockwise route to coordinate better with the North Cascades National Park permitting for the first night. My common backpacking partner, Bryce, was gonna be challenged with getting there at a reasonable time on September 1st so I opted for a campsite halfway along the East Bank Trail at Roland Creek. We did not hit the trail until 7pm so night hiking was required. One issue worth mentioning, especially when searching for your campsite in the dark, was that the campsite shows up on the typical topo maps as being south of the creek when in fact it is north of the creek. But it did turn out to be a good site for setting up in the dark.
We hiked about 6 mile to Devils Creek Landing on Ross Lake where we had lunch and a rest before the big climb. The climb to Devils Dome or at a minimum Bear Skull Cabin was going to be the make or break for my body which is why I had been putting in extra vertical training in recent weeks. Water is an issue and the most dependable source supposedly would be found at Bear Skull Cabin 4000′ up. We were told that there was a stream at about 3000′ so we only carried 2 quarts which was adequate for our perfect cool weather climb.
However, 4000′ mostly straight up does kick your butt. Bryce and I slogged along and finally reached the Cabin after a 6 hour climb. I believe I got all that I could from my body on this climb so my training turned out to be totally justified. Now I understood why this loop is not more heavily travelled. The climb from the other direction is probably easier due to water and switchbacks, but 4000′ is a tough climb especially for an old backpacker. We did have a nice campsite just off trail toward the cabin. The night was totally clear with magnificent stars that I was too tired to enjoy.
The next day required another 1000′ climb up to Devils Dome which lived up to the hype for a fabulous 360 view of the North Cascades looking into Canada. The day was clear with some cloud cover moving in later, temperature at about 60 and no wind. This was as good as it could get.
Up till now we were also sharing the trail with the Pacific Northwest Trail, PNT, but that would end as we approached Devils Pass. Supposedly there is water on this 6 mile stretch but I don’t remember seeing any.
We were carrying enough water to make it to Granite Creek, which turned out to be our choice for a campsite after about an eight mile day. The trail over to Granite Creek was one of the most pleasant and beautiful stretches of hiking that I have ever experienced.
However, more campsite information would have been helpful. On the north side there is a campsite about a quarter mile up a steep trail from the stream. We opted to go to the creek assuming there would be campsites. Well, we only found one campsite barely large enough for two tents which was just south of the creek as you enter the trees. This worked out fine since there were hardly any other backpackers on this loop. And we did keep commenting on this lack of traffic especially on the long Labor Day Weekend. I guess the high vertical entry price to this loop keeps the crowds away.
Leaving Granite Creek hits you with a couple of tough 700+ ft climbs, the second being switchbacks up a fairly steep scree field.
These climbs were tough with legs that were worn out from the previous climb but were encouraged by fantastic views of Crater and Jack Mountain over beautiful valleys. The last climb was a bit precarious as you had to climb up a scree field with a few long switchbacks but also with a few really steep slippery sections. I think that I would rather be climbing here rather then descending.
We were again putting in about an 8 mile day planning to camp just before the final descent down to the Devils Park Trail which would take us back to our East Bank Trailhead parking lot.
We were again surprised that campsites were not more plentiful except for 2 to 3 miles up from the start of the descent. There was only one good campsite before the descent and it was fairly large but taken. Luckily the people there had scouted the area and found a hidden campsite a short distance behind theirs which turned out to be perfect for Bryce and I. The last day required us to descend down to Canyon Creek which was rather easy considering the number of switchbacks. This video captures my gratitude.
The long descent to the canyon floor.
At the crossing area over to the the Trailhead there is no longer a bridge, however, the stream ford is not to difficult. Plus there is a landslide just west of this crossing which forces you to ford the stream just to get around the landslide and back to the Devils Park Trail. Now you get to finish up the trek with a gentle 3+ mile hike along the stream.
Bryce and I agreed that the Devils Dome Loop is a special one, however, we would classify it as more technical or difficult. Our bodies were totally spent but it “Hurt So Good”. My advice, I originally planned to camp at Devils Creek on the 1st or second night to set up better for the long climb up to Devils Dome. One bummer for the trek was finding that thieves had stolen Bryce’s Catalytic Converter off his Toyota 4Runner.
Timberline Trail 2021
Yes, the Timberline Trail is the finest loop trail in America and my fifth year in a row trekking around it was another epic adventure. The bottom line though is that this trail is tough and my old body struggles to pull it off. Typically after the tough second day I really question why I do this. But the rewards are incredible especially when the weather is so beautiful.
Rather different to start a summer backpacking trek by making your way through a crowd of skiers, but that is Mt Hood. So starting out July 11th in beautiful weather with no chance of rain for the entire trek. Joining me is Shannon “Snuffy” Leader, blogger of Must Hike Must Eat. And to be joined that night by Bryce and Chris at Paradise Park. The hike up to Paradise Park is a good half day warm up which is a bit out of the way but totally worth it. The trail is so easy over to the Zigzag Canyon overlook, but then it is down and up.
Down to the ZigZag and then the climb up to Paradise Park. It was a warm day and the black flies were out so we did pay our dues to get an excellent campsite at Paradise Park.
Some of the best flowers were displayed on the climb.
Hiking with “Snuffy” was a real treat to compare backpacking prowess and stories but I had no interest in her culinary concoctions. But that is what Shannon does, she validates really interesting wilderness trail meals, whereas I just try to consume my evening Mountain House meal. This colorful meal that she made was supposedly excellent.
Bryce and Chris joined us later in the evening in Paradise enjoying a great cloudless sunset together.
The second day after staying at Paradise Park requires a plunge into the Sandy River Canyon with the always exciting crossing of the Sandy. This year the challenge was medium, but mistakes could not be made.
The reward for crossing the Sandy is your visit to Ramona Falls. We got there a bit earlier then typical years so the sun was only at the top. But Ramona Falls is the best.
Just after Ramona Falls you have the option to take the high or the low trail to Bald Mountain. The high route has been devastated by a tree blowdown and is essentially closed but unfortunately Bryce and Chris forgot about that when they left us to accomplish their trek in 3 nights instead of 4. They completed the high route but paid a heavy price for their effort. There should have been a sign at the turnoff to the high trail, however, I believe that sign did not get placed until after we passed by.
This stretch of the Timberline is the toughest for me because of the 3000′ climb with no good water options. Every year this stretch tests my resolve and I contemplate why I do the Timberline. This year was as difficult as ever but as with every year I eventually make it to the great view at the top and the streams coming off McNeil Point. Our campsite in that area turned out to be excellent.
The next day’s goal is typically to cross the Eliot Canyon which this year we knew would be the greatest test. But this stretch of trail offers some of the most beautiful views of Mt Hood and surroundings. The burnt areas from the Dollar Lake Fire 10 years ago now seem to offer a unique contrast to the lush green slopes. The Cairn Basin shelter did take a hit from a blowdown tree.
The Eliot stream crossing has been a breeze in recent years thanks to a large log that spanned the water but that log has washed away along with a lot of the canyon wall to create a new treacherous crossing. However, the greatest danger in the Eliot Canyon is just getting down to the stream. The steep approaches to the stream present numerous loose boulder situations, but we experienced that last year.
This year we also got to experience one of the most forceful river crossing I have ever accomplished. The video is of a hiker from Michigan.
This year the option to just stay at Tilly Jane Campground seemed like a good idea since nobody else was there probably due to the mess that has been made by more tree blowdowns.
On this Northeast side of Hood you get to experience above treeline hiking which has become a favorite of mine.
The goal for the last night is typically to reach Newton Creek which has clear streams and good campsites. This year the Newton Creek crossing was a bit more challenging than usual. I do love the view of Gnarl Ridge from the Newton.
The final day offers many beautiful waterfalls before you enter the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort land.
Then down to the White River and the killer climb up to Timberline Lodge. The climb isn’t really that bad except that you are fairly exposed and pretty much spent from the previous 40 miles.
Thank goodness for visions of your post trek meal to carry you up the ridge of the White River Canyon. Once you see the lodge you know you can make it.
This year’s Timberline Trail again taught me a lot about my 67 year old body. Many times it “Hurt So Good”. I do believe I will return to the Timberline Trail next year, but maybe do it in 5 nights.
Alice Lake Sawtooth Mountains
The Sawtooth Mountains grabbed my attention in recent years and based on typical snowpack conditions it looked like a great trek for late June. However, I needed to move my visit up to the middle of June, but the heat wave we were in looked like it would remedy any snow problems. What I did not properly take into account was that I drove over to Idaho from 300′ elevation and my hike up to Alice Lake would take me from about 7000′ up to 8600′ and I was sucking air. I had planned to do the Alice, Toxaway Lake Loop but I had received reports that the pass between the lakes was a post holing snow challenge, plus I also got feedback that the mosquitoes were thick over at Toxaway Lake. So after the oxygen deficit difficulty I experienced climbing to Alice Lake and knowing that the pass was another 1000′, I decided why not just stay another night at my fabulous campsite on Alice Lake. I knew that I could day hike over to Twin Lakes and just relax in this beautiful area. Plus feedback also suggests that Alice Lake is the most beautiful so why leave? It is difficult for a backpacker to be practical when your plans call for a longer trek, but hanging out for two days in this beautiful place turned out to be another great Adventure.
The trail up to Alice Lake is well maintained but this early season climb required fording a number of stream crossings. It does appear that the stream crossings will provide rock hop bridges when the water recedes about 8 inches. This young family from nearby Stanley was using this trip as a Christmas Present for their 3 boys.
This is about where I was really starting to think about the nap I would need. Alice Lake has a lower lake that leads you to believe you have arrived, it is all good.
Once at Alice Lake you realize the awesome beauty of this area.
When I arrived at Alice Lake all I wanted was to find a flat spot in the shade where I could take a long afternoon nap. That is exactly what I did but when I roused again around 6 pm I wandered around to find the perfect campsite. I was rather surprised that it had not been taken. Word was out that Alice Lake was easily accessible so I had plenty of company at the lake.
Alice Lake was perfect. Total sun, warm but not hot, no bugs and an awesome night ski to view the Milky Way.
The next day I felt better but it was obvious that a climb over to Toxaway Lake would have been tough, so I settled into total relaxation mode with plans for a day hike over and around Twin lakes.
I also explored the stream connection between Twin and Alice Lakes.
Just as beautiful approaching Alice Lake on the return from Twin Lakes.
Now I had most of the afternoon left to continue my serious chillaxing. Thankfully I had plenty of downloaded podcasts (Various IU Hoosier Basketball and Backpacker podcasts along with “The Dirtbag Diaries” and, “National Geo Overheard”) that I could catch up on.
Just a beautiful day with another awesome evening.
I felt so much better after a couple of days at altitude. I thought about more exploration, but heading for home was motivated a bit by the sporting events (US Open) that needed to be watched. Packing up was so nice because everything was dry The hike out from Alice offered the morning view of the lake.
Hiking back to Pettit Lake seemed long but it was all down hill. This was a Thursday and so many hikers and backpackers were headed up to Alice. There was a group a healthy young hikers who happened to all work at Redfish Lodge. It brought back memories of my youth knowing how cool it was to take advantage of local recreation opportunities during that summer job.
Back at the Tin Cup Trailhead and the Pettit Lake Campground I needed to say goodbye to Jane, the wonderful campground host. She plans on taking care of this campground for many years to come, plus she is looking forward to also backpacking up to the many nearby lakes.
I drove back to Oregon by way of Stanley and roads that took me north of Boise. A few things struck me such as the frenzy of tourists wanting to start their weekend. Also very little cellular access, maybe Biden’s infrastructure bill will help with that.
I hope to return to the Sawtooth Mountains better prepared for a more complete exploration. This is truly one of the most beautiful places in the US.
Early Season TDH Get-Away
I was itching for a backpacking Get-Away so when the temperatures started to rise with guaranteed clear skies I headed for my favorite overnight at Tom, Dick & Harry Mountain.
I have done this trek many times but never in April when there would definitely be snow, but I did underestimate how much snow there would be. Early on the trail the bridges filled to the rail with snow set the tone. The trail for the first two miles was essentially ice which created many difficulties especially for the hikers trying to get to Mirror Lake.
The upper trail to the top presented more serious challenges such as not sliding down hillsides and just finding the real trail. Once on the last leg to the top I realized I should have brought my snowshoes, but it was doable even though I was questioning my wisdom in scheduling this trek. I knew what the reward would be at the top but I was also starting to be concerned about how strong the winds were going to be.
The winds were strong and the snow was deep so this was going to be a whole new camping experience at my favorite spot. The winds were ripping up the mountain so I was able to set up camp with a nice view of Hood and still get shelter from the wind.
I quickly realized that I had not properly prepared for the snow or the wind so I had to improvise with some rope tie offs to nearby trees. Thankfully those rope ties did the job as the wind never let up throughout the night. It was amazingly beautiful as I have come to expect, however, the wind prevented any comfortable viewing of Mt Hood.
The saving grace for the evening was that the winds were also bringing in unusually warm air so being cold was not a concern. However, major wind gusts pummeling my tent all night did not allow for much sleep. Plus my air mattress was not holding air so I had to blow it up about every hour. It was still beautiful at sun up, but the winds were increasing in intensity.
By 7:00 am I had to break down the campsite to avoid being blown away. The winds were fierce so I had to take an alternate path behind the view area to get to the shelter of the forest.
The hike down was not easy but it was downhill so no complaints. Overall the the ultimate Get-Away that I had hoped for did not pan out, but it sure was another great Adventure.
Lost Coast Trail 2021
The Lost Coast Trail has become my early season getaway, but the year since Conquering the Lost Coast Trail in 2020 fueled a highly anticipated return. Permits for the LCT have become more coveted so you select your permit far in advance and hope for the best. This year’s permit was for February 18-22 and the weather appeared to be acceptable, however, rain was in the equation. We decided to do a Yoyo down and back from Mattole to avoid the brutal shuttle road over to Shelter Cove. I had my normal concerns about my now 66 year old body, but I also was highly interested in how my new exercise routine, Supernatural on Oculus, might enhance my backpacking experience.
This year Bryce and I welcomed Jeff, an experienced Wilderness Recreation Professional, to join us and the 2021 Trekking season was launched complete with Rainier Jubilee Beer. I do believe Jeff thanked me for the invite more than 100 times throughout the trek. We arrived at Mattole Trailhead at dusk on the 17th and found a spot to camp on the beach. Thursday was known to have rain in the forecast so we were grateful for every hour we got before it hit.
Low tide would occur around the middle of the day making for great flexibility, but the weather would dictate our progress. The Elephant Seals were strewn across the Punta Gorda Lighthouse stretch but they rarely emerged from their slumber. I’ll use the video below to document the Seals.
We were not making great time once we got on the trail, I think we knew that the weather was not going to cooperate to allow us to venture past the first tidal zone, so we enjoyed a leisurely stroll. It started raining around 2 pm and the wind out of the SW appeared to be an issue so we were looking for a campsite with a wind break. We ended up choosing the green knoll just as you enter into the overland section past Sea Lion Gulch.
We were able to get camp setup as the rain became more significant. By 4pm the rain had forced us into our tents for the remainder of the day and night. We had a significant amount of rain and the accompanying wind made it difficult to keep the moisture at bay. This is when you wish you had downloaded more media options to your phone to fill your time. But the rain began to retreat the following morning allowing us to pack up our wet gear and proceed south.
We were highly encouraged by the sight of blue skies but were were in for a weather mixed day which would include difficult stream crossing thanks to the overnight rain. (Stream Crossing Video later in the Post)
The weather bounced between a windy rain in our face to beautiful sunny breakouts. We were now hiking on the overland trail but needed to return to the beach at about the 5.5 mile mark. This turned out to be a bit precarious due to the recent rain. You have about a 20 foot drop down a steep eroding gully. Bryce ended up in surf slide down complete with a spill at the end, but no injury.
We were optimistic coming out of the tidal zone with beautiful sunbreaks but the weather report warned of another storm.
We wanted to venture past Spanish Flat, maybe down to Big Flat, but the rain and the wind were returning so we concluded that the wind breaks at Spanish Flat would be the better choice. We set up camp and had enough time to hike down to Kinsey Creek.
This was a much better evening since we weren’t forced into our tents until the sun went down, but then we were in for another night of heavier winds with rain. The next morning better weather complete with rainbows offered great motivation for our return north.
The hike back past the tidal zone was just as interesting as the hike in. Rain, wind and sun made for an eventful day. Streams were flowing as high as ever which made for some exciting crossings. (Documented in video below)
We decided we were going to camp somewhere near Mattole this night in preparation to head out from the LCT on Sunday morning.
After getting through the tidal zone the search for an acceptable campsite began. The problem with the stretch around the Punta Gorda Lighthouse is the presence of sea lions and free range cattle. We also were bucking a head wind which we were really hoping to get some shelter from.
Once past the initial tidal zone we were competing with cattle for the only decent campsites. We ended up clearing cow patties so we could camp.
Our final night on the LCT was beautiful and dry. We hiked out the next morning with plans for some frisbee golf, brewpub nourishment and to search for a campground for the the evening.
My third Lost Coast Trail Trek was all that I could have hoped for. Bryce has become a trusted companion and the addition of Jeff was a benefit to all. My old body held up great and I can validate that my Oculus Supernatural exercise paid great dividends for my core and upper body. My knees were a bit sore but what the heck, first hike in 2021 was awesome.
Driving out from Mattole through Petrolia and over to Ferndale was as scenic as ever, complete with spotting the pickup in the tree.
We went on to play a round of Disc Golf in the Redwoods at Humboldt State University. Had an amazing dinner at the Mad River Brewery and got a great campsite at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. However, we should have checked the road conditions, because getting back to Oregon from this location turned out to be quite an adventure with Hwy 101 closed just to the north and then CA 96 closed near Happy Camp. So we ended up having to take CA 299 over to Redding, CA to then drive north via Hwy 5.
Previous Lost Coast Treks:
December of 2015 where I nearly did not survive: I Lost to the Lost Coast
February of 2020 when I returned to conquer the Lost Coast: Conquered the Lost Coast
I was able to reenact my 2015 route in 2022 with perfect weather. Here is the comparison
Stevens Pass to Stehekin
I had completed my warm up treks and was ready for a new Adventure. I had not done Stevens Pass north on the PCT, but I had done Suiattle River access to Rainy Pass, so that first portion of the PCT Section K was at the top of my list. It is a long stretch of 107 miles and lots of vertical, oh well, no problem other then carrying enough food. I planned for 10ish days knowing that I don’t have an appetite on the trail which would allow me to stretch my provisions if needed. Weather was going to be excellent except that it was warmer than usual. My travel logistics were easy starting with spending a night in Chelan Lake State Park, leaving my car at Lady of the Lake long term parking, catching the free metro link bus to Wenatchee and then taking a Trailways bus to Stevens Pass. I was on the PCT going north by 3:00 pm on July 27th. However, this trek seemed more daunting then usual. I had not been solo for a number of treks and the distance was 30% longer then I had even taken on. My mind was telling me how nice it would be to be sitting on my deck drinking a beer and my legs were already telling me they were tired. This is always the challenge, to force yourself to just do it and after a few days you know it was the right call, because getting out there is what it is all about. Unfortunately key comfort factors were not in my favor. Temperatures were flirting with 80 degrees and the bugs must have just hatched. The positive was that water was not an issue and the wild flowers were good. So I was “On the Trail Again”.
My goal for the first night was Lake Valhalla which push me a bit. I chose a campsite in a meadow where I discovered just how aggressive the mosquitoes and flies were going to be. But I was generally so tired at my campsites that I was content with escaping the bugs and getting to sleep. My goal for the second day would be Grizzly Peak thinking that the bugs would be better up high. This was only about 9 miles and not that much vertical, but it was hot.
My campsite plans for Grizzly Pass were fine except that the bugs were worse up high, so I did not hang out side much to enjoy the view.
The third day took me past Pear Lake which appears to be very popular due to alternative trail access options. I decided not to climb to Lake Sally Ann and opted for a night at Pass Creek which turned out to be much better with respect to the bugs. The goal for the next day was Indian Pass.
I was told about a great campsite by taking a trail from the Indian Pass sign. Yep, it was primo complete with a toilet, campsites in a thicket of trees next to a large meadow. However, the bugs were the worst yet. That night was kinda weird because a herd of deer bedded down around my tent. The next day would be about Red Pass.
Campsite plans were to deal with the ford of White Chuck Creek and camp on the north side. This ford complete with a buckled bridge and getting your feet wet was rather refreshing with a nice campsite reward.
The next climb would be Fire Creek Pass but I was wearing down so I opted to camp somewhere around Fire Creek. This section was a low milage day for enjoyment, bugs were not bad and the views were awesome. My body was wearing down since I had burned all of my easy fat and I needed to start eating more.
Fire Creek Pass was another beautiful event with plenty of snow, probably the most difficult of the trek.
On the way down I got the word that Milk Creek was an overgrown mess and that I could get water on either side. So my plan was to cross Milk Creek get water and find a campsite somewhere up the other side. The problem though was that for a mile before Milk Creek the overgrowth was so bad it was essentially bushwacking and the same was true on the north side. It was getting late in the afternoon, it was hot and the bugs were horrible as I tried to fight my way up from Milk Creek.
I was really getting tired so I was beginning to consider camping on the trail if I had to. It did not look good for finding flat ground for a campsite, but then I see a sign that says “Toilet”. Thank you God, I really needed to stop, there was no toilet but there were a couple of campsites. Now I needed to recover for the climb over Grassy Point the next day.
This was a tough day, the body was dead but I think the gorgeous scenery carried me over Grassy Point knowing that it was then down to the Suiattle River with one more huge climb to go. It was around this part of the trek where I decided that I needed to finally put in a Hot Tub at our house. Thoughts of how I would install this tub provided a needed distraction for many days. I opted to camp next to Vista Creek and take on the Suiattle River crossing and climb the next day. Turned out to be a great campsite where I had my first fire.
At the major bridge over the Suiattle River I took a long break to recharge my body and iPhone. I had about a 3500′ climb ahead of me so I just wanted to knock off as many miles as I could before camping.
I ended up at the Skyline camping area where there was a large Forest Service work crew just setting up.
Now the climb up and at least a little over Suiattle Pass. I was dragging but I made it to a nice campsite just over the pass complete with the most bugs of the trip.
It was Thursday August 6th and I had about 18 miles to go but it was mostly all downhill. I wanted to get close enough to High Bridge that I could catch the shuttle at noon on Friday. The hike down did have some more small climbs and the weather was changing to a light rain, plus I was running into more overgrown trail so I felt that camping at Swamp Creek 8 miles out from High Bridge would be fine. Plus I was soaked from the waist down due to the moisture off the overgrowth.
It was a nice last night on the trail even though it did rain off and on all night. But it was dry when I packed up for my final 8 “easy” miles to go. Not so easy as in some more up and downs with plenty of overgrown trail. The sight of High Bridge was so welcomed.
The normal Stehekin shuttle is not running this year, however, the Stehekin Valley Ranch is providing the service which gives you a hour layover at lunchtime to at the Ranch, just right for fueling up on a burger. I then stopped at the Stehekin Pastry Company where I had the best piece of Cherry Pie I think I have ever had.
I then set up camp in the National Park Lakeview Campground and proceeded to down a few brews from the store before it closed at 4:00 pm. The next morning I went back to the Bakery for breakfast and had a nice 2 mile walk back to get ready for my ferry ride back to Chelan.
Overall a great trip, but it was also the most difficult trek I have ever completed and now 4 days later I am just starting to feel recovered.
Timberline Trail 2020
I still believe that the 41 mile Timberline Trail around Mt Hood is the finest backpacking loop in America. It just has it all with adventure galore which is why it was the theme of a Podcast I did. This was my 4th year to take on the Timberline, which I use as my age/health meter, and I am pleased with how my old body held up this year. Bryce again joined me for this year’s trek, we failed on our attempt last year in mid June due to snow and weather.
This year there was about as much snow but the trail was more navigable. Last year the beautiful portion was the first 2 days which served as a good memory for the wet weather that dominated the first 2 days this year.
Each year I think about going counter clockwise around Hood but each year my analysis of conditions steers me clockwise. Paradise Park is a great first night goal to warm up your hiking legs and prepare you for the grueling descent down to Ramona Falls and then back up the ridgeline to mid-mountain. This year’s trek started out with beautiful weather for the view from Paradise Park.
I had already decided that I wanted to checkout the most western campsite at Paradise Park located next to some tree cover. This turned out to be a fortuitous decision since a heavy wet fog moved in just as we had finished setting up camp. The trees gave us some relief from the wet fog but by morning it didn’t really matter, everything was damp and we were set for hiking in a mist.
On the trail you quickly adapt to being cold and wet which actually serves as a great motivator for knocking off miles. The emerging Rhododendrons on the lower trail help as well.
Your first concern is making it across the Sandy river, this year we got advice to go up stream where there were a couple of small logs providing a dry crossing. By now it was essentially raining so passing through an empty Ramona Falls was not as inspiring, but Ramona Falls is still one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Now begins the most challenging part of the trek, climbing about 2400′ over 8 miles taking the upper route but cutting over before Bald Mountain.
I had hoped to go all the way to McNeil Point but the rain and low cloud cover nixed that option. We opted to camp at Glisan Creek because we saw a couple of spots that were relatively dry under the trees. Bryce was totally inspired to start a fire relying on his Air Force survival trainer expertise, I was impressed. As for me, I really got chilled after setting up my tent and needed to get in my sleeping bag to warm up. It was still raining and seemed to be getting colder. An hour later I emerged to Bryce’s fire ready for dinner. We went to sleep that night hoping for the rain to stop.
We awoke to blue skies with great anticipation to be warmed by the sun. The goal for the day was to get past Cloud Cap, maybe even go up to Cooper Spur, however, this next section was going to be physically challenging for our tired bodies.
We hiked over a lot of snow but unlike last year there had been plenty of people before us to set the trail.
Some of the stream crossings presented you with a decision to trust using the snow bridge, but no real danger.
This day was crystal clear giving us some of the best photos I have of the north side of Mt Hood.
The challenge for the day was crossing Eliot Creek and it was not about the creek crossing but instead about getting down to the creek. The water was running high probably from the previous day’s rain and the sunny day so it was not obvious where we would cross. There is a huge tree that provides an excellent bridge down from the trail entrance, however, you do not see that crossing option at first.
This is the canyon where the trail had to be rerouted in 2017 due to a slide. The 20 feet or so of drop off to the creek is a mixture of loose dirt, rocks and boulders. Getting from the trail entrance to the log bridge crossing was flat out dangerous. You could not trust any rock to step on and when a large rock started to slide you had be be extremely careful not to get dragged along with it. I don’t remember this descent to the stream ever being so loose, maybe it is just an early season issue. But somebody could get killed here, so I think it is time for some sort of a reinforced trail down to the stream. Now the climb up to Cloud Cap and all was good. As we climbed east from Cloud Cap our weary bodies enticed us to camp near the head of Tilly Jane Creek in a really nice sandy area.
We were able to dry everything out and enjoy a wonderful evening underneath Mt Hood.
Morning broke with more beautiful weather motivating us for our climb above treeline over high point which is one of my favorite areas.
The weather was all over the place with sun and fog but it was a great temperature for the climb.
And then you descend down Gnarl Ridge to Newton Creek which presents a unique landscape of a really harsh existence for vegetation.
The Newton Creek campsites are excellent and within an easy distance to hike the following day, however, I thought that I remembered a spot near the upcoming waterfalls.
Unfortunately just after we left Newton Creek it started to rain and I was not finding those campsites so we ended up camping between Gemini and Voyager ski runs in Mount Hood Meadows Ski Area. The campsite worked out just fine and set us up for a relatively easy final day hike back to Timberline Lodge.
I do love hiking through Mt Hood Meadows Ski envisioning how I will ski down those runs next winter.
Crossing the White River was more difficult then I remember, but it was a beautiful day.
The 1000′ climb up to the parking lot always seems tough but the motivation of your reward, this year Halibut Fish & Chips, at the Barlow Trail Roadhouse, puts a hop in your step.
This years Timberline Trail Trek may have been the best yet. The still early season, unpredictable weather with pretty good awakening of flowers and no bugs made for a great Continuing Adventure.
- Previous Posts on the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood
- Timberline Trail Attempt in June 2019
- Timberline Trail September 2018
- Timberline Trail August 2017
Strawberry Mountain Wilderness
Starting June 22, Bryce and I spent 5 days backpacking in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. It was one of those perfect weeks for weather, crowds, bugs, but a bit early for flowers. The Strawberry Mountain Wilderness is an island in the high plains of Eastern Oregon surrounding Strawberry Mountain which climbs to over 9000 feet. We accessed the wilderness via Prairie City with great meals in and out at 1188 in John Day. From the Strawberry Lake Campground we planned on spending the first night at Strawberry Lake which is only 1.2 mile in. If this area was anywhere but in the middle of nowhere it would be overwhelmed by hikers and campers. But it is 3.5 hours from Bend or Boise and 6 hours from Portland. The lake itself is pristine and there is fairly good fishing.
We got to the lake in late afternoon and just missed getting the primo campsite on a grassy beach next to an inlet stream. However, we took the campsite at the south end of the lake and immediately caught our Brook Trout dinner. Our plan was to do the loop starting with Slide Lake, however, Brook, decided that she did not want to carry her backpack and just took off to avoid her duty. Well, if you have followed Brook’s backpacking over the last few years you know that we have had some similar issues. Brook is complicated and this trip was her test for the 2020 season, and she failed. Of course she was not lost but she wasted half of our day as we had to look for her. The outcome was to spend another night at Strawberry Lake and do a day hike up to Strawberry Falls and Little Strawberry Lake.
Bryce decided to haul his float tube up to Strawberry Lake since it was not that far and it did turn out to be a nice recreational option. Bryce had some success fishing from it, but we also just used it to cool off in the lake.
Strawberry Falls and Little Strawberry Lake are must see. About a 1.5 mile hike further with some climb which set into to motion a gradual daily routine to get in better shape and acclimate to the altitude.
Hike to Strawberry Falls & Little Strawberry Lake
Strawberry Lake is at about 6200 feet but we would eventually top out at over 9000 at the end of the week by taking daily hikes.
The purpose of this wilderness get-a-way was to explore the Strawberry Mountain area but also to get in shape for the 2020 backpacking season. What I quickly realized was that it was about acclimating to elevation since I live at 300 feet. Each day I could feel my body adapt to an extra 1000 feet. I am so glad I did this since it should set me up well for the Timberline Trail around Mt Hood in another week.
We ended up camping at a different spot on Strawberry lake on our second night. It was on the east side of the lake with a much nicer view of the lake and stars. Our plan was to backpack to Slide Lake or further and still keep the loop option open to us by circling back to Strawberry Lake. However, I still had my eye on that great grassy beach campsite on the SW side of the lake. We decided that if that site opened up before we left for Slide Lake we would go take it over and then just day hike to Slide Lake. That is exactly what happened which set us up for camping the rest of the week at Strawberry Lake and just doing day hikes. This is not my normal strategy but in the case for this wilderness I now feel that it was the most attractive option.
Hike to Slide Lake
The hike to Slide Lake pushed most of the 1000′ vertical at the beginning and it was probably the steepest climbing we did all week, so the heart was pumping but it hurt so good.
Slide Lake is beautiful with a hike that provides views to the East with a view point of Prairie City providing a cell signal. From this point on the trail flattens out with occasional small snow fields.
You can hike around the lake which offered us some nice fishing holes. Hiking back to our primo campsite on Strawberry Lake made for a very complete day.
We were feeling really good about our exercise progress so we went to sleep that 3rd night hoping to hike to the summit of Strawberry Mountain on our last full day.
The hike from Strawberry Lake to the summit of Strawberry Mountain would require about 9 miles and a 2800 vertical climb. We got to pass by the falls again and then up into the meadows below the ridge-line over to the final summit ascent. The problem was getting to the ridge-line which was guarded by an imposing wall of snow. It probably would have been wise to have our ice axes but our drive to get to the summit gave us the motivation to take it on. We were careful and the snow was more firm in our ascent which helped a lot. Coming back down would present some new options.
Once on the ridge-line you traverse over to the north side at about 8700′ and your pumping heart is telling you that you may have come far enough, but you do need to finish the climb to the summit at 9038′.
After communicating with our families thanks to cell service on top we began our return to Strawberry Lake knowing that it would be so much easier going down, however, we still had the snow ridge to contend with. Bryce decided to glissade down it.
The glissade did look like fun but I opted for the conventional descent. The hike back to Strawberry Lake was an awesome end to a great week of hiking in the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness. One last night on our primo campsite just enjoying the beauty of this place.