Badger Creek

We combined our latest hike with a bit of reconnaissance hoping to check out some possible camp sites for an overnight trip this Summer. The plan was to hike the Badger Creek Trail from Bonney Crossing 7.7 miles to it’s junction with the Badger Creek Cutoff Trail looking for possible tent sites near the junction. This was our first visit to the Badger Creek Wilderness which is located just to the east of Mt. Hood in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Badger Creek flows from Badger Lake through a forested valley before joining Tygh Creek and eventually emptying into the White River. From Bonney Crossing the trail heads up the valley through a diverse forest as it climbs from an elevation of 2200′ to Badger Lake at 4500′. We turned around at just under 3650′ for our hike.

For once we were not one of the first cars at the trailhead, in fact we wound up having to park a little bit up the road as the few spots at the trailhead were taken. After walking down to the trailhead we were quickly greeted by a wilderness sign signaling the edge of the Badger Creek Wilderness.

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Not a lot of sunlight was finding it’s way down into the valley in the morning but it did manage a few highlights.
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There was an interesting mix of both trees and flowers along the trail. Various types of pine, cedar, fir, and oak trees could be seen withΒ a number of different flowers. The most interesting of the flowers was an odd yellow flower on a tall stalk that we kept seeing. After doing some research I discovered that it was silvercrown.
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Some of the other flowers present were balsamroot and lupine:
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Prairie Star
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Fairy Slippers
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Arnica
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There was also large patches of Vanilla leaf and skunk cabbage which were both really fragrant on this day. The vanilla leaf was much more pleasant. πŸ™‚
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While the trail stayed fairly close to Badger Creek there really weren’t a lot of opportunities to get down to the creek. Steep banks and dense vegetation limited access but there were a few places where camp sites had been established that allowed access to the creek.
Badger Creek
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Shortly after the Post Camp trail joined up with the Badger Creek Trail was the only real discernible waterfall that we saw.
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Being down in the forested valley meant that there were not many views up. The best views came at our turnaround point at the cutoff trail junction where we could see the top of Lookout Mountain and a couple of the other high points of the surrounding hills.
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As the day went on it got quite warm on the trail and the wildlife started to come out, especially the butterflies. We had seen a couple of deer on the drive in but on the trail we didn’t spot anything larger than a snake.
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One of the more interesting sightings was a butterfly that had been caught by a camouflaged spider.
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We were surprised that we didn’t see more people on the trail on the way to our turnaround point based on the number of cars that were at the trailhead when we’d set off. We were even mores surprised by the large number of hikers we encountered on our way back to the trailhead. We just kept passing groups heading in the whole afternoon. I’d seen conflicting reports as to the popularity of this trail but apparently on Memorial Day weekend it is rather popular. We found plenty of new cars at and near the trailhead when we got back and as we were packing up at 4pm cars continued to arrive.

We wound up getting a pretty good idea of where we’ll aim to set up camp when we do our next trip to the Badger Creek Wilderness and are looking forward to visiting Lookout Mountain on that trip. Happy Trails!

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Dog Mountain

Oh those pesky clouds. We had been moving this hike all over the calendar in hopes of catching the wildflowers that this hike is famous for at the optimal time. After checking in on portlandhikers.com and seeing some encouraging trip reports we decided it was now or never. The forecast was iffy but there was a chance of some sunshine and little chance of rain and this hike fit our schedules here better than it would again while the flowers were still in bloom. A more flexible schedule would have allowed us to head up earlier in the week when the sky was clear and the sun shining, but that won’t happen for some time yet. For now we are at the mercy of the weather.

Dog Mountain is on the Washington side of the Columbia River just east of Carson. This is a very popular hike, especially during flower season, so we were sure to leave extra early to beat the crowds. We were car number 4 at the trailhead when we arrived shortly before 7am. We were beneath the clouds and could see their edge to the east where clear sky taunted us just a bit further up the gorge. As we began the 3 mile climb to the summit we could see that Mt. Defiance was cloud covered on the Oregon side of the river.
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There were some nice flowers along the early part of the trail but I had a hard time getting decent pictures due to the cloud cover and dim light of the more forested lower parts of Dog Mountain.
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At the half mile mark (which seems much further given the almost 700′ the trail has already climbed) the trail splits offering two routes to the upper meadow. The right hand spur is the recommended spur both for scenery and ease. For once we took the “less difficult” route and opted for the scenery of the lower meadow.
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Just about a mile form the split we came to our first view of the lower meadow which was filled with a large variety of flowers, but dominated by yellow balsamroot.
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The wind was really blowing on the exposed hillside and the clear skies to the east were still teasing us but the beauty of the flowers trumped all.
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We could see the lower portion of the upper meadows from here and it was obvious that the clouds were passing right over the summit area. We held out hope that by the time we climbed the final 1.6 miles the conditions would improve.
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After leaving the lower meadow the trail reentered the forest.
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As the trail emerged from the trees we passed through a short stretch of thimbleberry bushes before entering a hillside filled with balsamroot.
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There were many other wildflowers mixed into the balsamroot too. We were doing our best to spot all the different varieties.
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There is a viewpoint that was the site of a lookout in this lower portion of the meadow but on this day we didn’t have a view.
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Except for that of the meadow.
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The viewpoint as we continued up.
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The flower display continued as we kept climbing. It was pretty cold due to the moist air and steady wind and even climbing couldn’t keep our hands from being a bit numb. The flowers that were in bloom changed as we got closer to the summit showing that there would still be time to get up there and enjoy them in the next couple of weeks.
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A trail junction announces the final .1mi to the summit where a little balsamroot was outnumbered by some smaller yellow flowers.
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On a clear day Mt. Hood would have been peaking over the shoulder of Mt. Defiance and the Columbia River would be snaking along below but with no sign of the clouds ending we took a short break and began our return. For the return trip we turned right at the junction and headed for the Augspurger Mt. trail. This trail passed through even more wildflower meadows before reaching the Augspurger Trail in just over a mile.
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The Ausgsuprger Mt. trail headed down a narrow ridge and then wound around Dog Mt. back to the parking area.
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Along the way were many woodland flowers in the forest and the occasional view once we had descended below the clouds.
Wind Mountain:
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As we got closer to the trailhead small patches of wildflowers began to be more frequent. In places where there the hillsides were free of trees flowers reigned.
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The parking lot had filled when we made it back just before 10:30. We’d seen a handful of hikers coming up the Augspurger trail but the majority of them obviously went up the way we had. We had joked about doing the loop again if the sky had cleared by the time we got back to the car. It hadn’t and seeing the number of cars in the lot all I could picture was a conga line going up the trail so even if it had I think I would have passed and saved the view for another visit. The wildflowers had certainly lived up to their hype even with the poor visibility. We plan on putting this hike back on the to do list in coming years, and this time we’ll look for a sunny day on which to tackle it. Happy trails!

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Coldwater Lake & The Hummocks

We ended our “Creek Week” vacation by changing things up a bit and heading to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument hoping to see some snowy mountains. Our creek theme wasn’t totally abandoned though. Our destination was Coldwater Lake which was formed during the 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption when Coldwater Creek was blocked by debris from the mountain. The creek still flows into and out of the lake on it’s way to the North Fork Toutle River.

The slide that created Coldwater Lake also created the Hummocks which are piles of rock, ash, and other debris that was washed down and deposited along the Toutle River. A 2.5 mile trail loops through these mounds and that was where we decided to start our hike. Our plan was to hit that popular trail first before it got crowded then walk back along the shoulder of Highway 504 for a quarter mile to the entrance to Coldwater Lake and once there either do an 8.8mi out and back to a footbridge over Coldwater Creek or continue over the bridge on a longer loop up and around the lake. We decided to wait until we got closer to the bridge before choosing which option we would take.

It was quite foggy when we arrived at the trailhead for the Hummocks loop making it pretty clear that we wouldn’t be seeing Mt. St. Helens for awhile at least.
The Hummocks trailhead

The scenery along the trail deserved our attention anyway with many ponds and streams nestled between the various mounds.
Ducklings on one of the ponds
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As we were making our way through the strange landscape we spotted some elk on one of the Hummocks a short distance away.
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They didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with us. There were also numerous ducks, geese, and other birds enjoying the ponds and marshes along the trail.
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The trail also passes a nice viewpoint above the North Fork Toutle River where Mt. St. Helens would be visible on a clear day. We settled for the river and another group of elk grazing on the far bank.
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Shortly after leaving the viewpoint we were passing through a wooded area when I noticed an elk around 30′ away standing in the trees. Before I could get the camera up it disappeared but that had been the closest we’d come to an elk yet.

The clouds were beginning to clear up when we made it back to the parking lot and set off along the highway toward the Coldwater Lake entrance. We passed over Coldwater Creek on it’s way from the lake down into the Toutle Valley and then crossed the road and headed down to the lake.
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The view across the lake was spectacular from the trailhead. Minnie Peak lay ahead with a dusting of snow and a misty covering of clouds.
Coldwater Lake
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A little island was a popular spot for geese and ducks. I am sure they were there for the views.
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As we traveled along the north shore of the lake the views both ahead and behind kept getting better. The clouds were lifting revealing more and more snow covered peaks.
Coldwater Lake
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A few flowers were ahead of schedule giving us a taste of what will be coming in the next few weeks.
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Scouler's Cordaylis

I had my eyes on Minnie Peak waiting for the last cloud to finally let go. It was a stubborn one though and just wouldn’t quite disappear.

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The trail crosses several small streams before reaching what was a very nice waterfall on this day. Rock Gully Falls, as it’s called in Sullivan’s book, was swollen with melt water making it a damp crossing since there is no bridge.
Rock Gully Falls
The crossing
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We spotted several more elk above us on the hillside as we rounded a small peninsula shortly after passing the falls. It was amazing watching them quickly traverse the steep hillside.
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Can you spot them here?
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The next marker along the trail was a fan of rocks that had been part of a slide into the lake.
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Near the end of Coldwater Lake we came to a shallow pool of water that was, at least at one time, home to a beaver. We didn’t see one but we did see plenty of ducks and geese here.
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Evidence of Beaver work
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The cloud had finally left Minnie Peak revealing the craggy mountain top by the time we reached the trail junction just above the bridge over Coldwater Creek.
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Coldwater Creek came raging down the valley putting on an impressive show.
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We had decided to do the full loop as it appeared that snow would not be an issue and loops are generally more fun than retracing your steps so we crossed the bridge and began to climb the ridge on the south side of Coldwater Lake. The views behind us as we climbed just kept getting better.
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The rock fan
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It was a stiff climb but the views eased the pain some. As the trail began to become more gradual, we could see the Coldwater Visitor Center far off in the distance on the opposite hillside.
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Down in the little valley Heather spotted more elk moving in the trees.
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Just a short while later she spotted another elk heading our way. It stopped in a little bowl below us to check us out.
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Nique correctly identified it as a young bull as it began to come toward us again.
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He then veered slightly away from us and crossed the trail a ways ahead and disappeared behind a small rise. I kept looking up the hillside to see if I could see where he was heading.
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Just moments after taking the above picture he popped his head up over the rise and looked right down at us. As I fumbled with the camera he jumped down onto the trail no more than 10 yards in front of us and sped off back the way he had come originally. By the time I got a picture he was quite a ways down the into the bowl.
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That had gotten my heart racing as I wasn’t sure if he had decided to turn aggressive. I had been expecting him to run away from us not at us. After the excitement we continued on to tractor junction where a trail leads up to Coldwater Peak. The junction is named for the piece of logging equipment that was laid to rest there by the eruption.
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We had finally found a little snow in this area but not much was left.
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After curving around the trail came to a great open viewpoint.
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We could see Rock Gully Falls and the North Coldwater Lake trail really well.
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We had heard a lot of croaking on the Hummocks trail but hadn’t seen any frogs or toads there or along the lake, but now at almost 3500′ Nique spotted one.
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Coldwater Peak became visible as we made our way back toward the west end of the lake. It was interesting to see this side of it after having hiked up it last year.
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Just as the trail began to descend we came to more logging equipment that didn’t survive the eruption.
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From here we could also see the Hummocks parking lot and our car.
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We still had a ways to go.

Our last elk sighting was a big one. As we were coming down, the largest herd we’d seen was scrambling to stay ahead of us and dropping down over the hillside.
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What a sight πŸ™‚
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We made it down to the South Trailhead and began our road walk back to our car. Mt. St. Helens finally decided to make an appearance at this point.
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When we got back to the car I dropped off my pack and jogged down the Hummocks Trail to the first good viewpoint to get my volcano pictures.
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Now that’s the way to end a hike – Happy Trails indeed! πŸ™‚

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The Other Eagle Creek (Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness)

We continued what I have dubbed “Creek Week” by visiting another Eagle Creek the day after our trip to the one in the Columbia Gorge. Even though both creeks share the same name and both are located partially in the Mt. Hood National Forest the similarities end there. This Eagle Creek flows through the old growth forest of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness and is much less visited than the one in the Gorge. There are no dizzying cliffs or giant waterfalls but rather the relaxing sound of running water while you stroll through a lush forest.

It was good that the trail was so relaxing because the drive to it was anything but. The hike was listed as an additional hike in the 2012 edition of William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Northwest Oregon & Southwest Washington complete with driving directions. He warned of a confusion of logging roads and he was right. I had also Googled the route and printed out directions from the Forest Service to the trailhead. The road names all matched but each of the directions gave different distances once we got onto SE Harvey Rd. Google said 1.2 miles, the Forest Service 1.8 miles, and Sullivan a more detailed 2.6 miles. Our first mistake was not paying attention to the difference in the distances given followed by not using the odometer as soon as we turned onto Harvey Rd. The area was heavily logged with operations ongoing so there were many side roads and turnoffs and no signs for any type of trail. We drove to the end of what we thought was Harvey Rd. and found a pile of garbage where people had obviously come out to shoot guns (seems to be a favorite pastime in that area) but no sign of a trail. We turned around and headed back the way we’d come looking for any sign of a trail that we might have missed. There were a couple of possibilities but nothing obvious. As we were reading the different instructions we noticed the different mileages which made it more confusing. In the end we decided to drive back to the start of SE Harvey Rd. and use the Odometer. There was nothing at the 1.2 mile mark so the Google instructions were ruled out. At the 1.8 mile mark a gated road led down to the right. The trail description in the book stated that the trail began on an overgrown old road so this had possibilities. I got an idea here and turned on the GPS to see if we were at the trail but when the map came up there was no trail where we were so we hopped in the car and continued to follow Sullivan’s mileage directions. We stopped at one point when we spotted what looked like it might have been an old road with a possible trail leading from it but again using the GPS it was clear that we still had not found the trail. At the 2.4 mile mark we spotted a barricaded road leading down to the right so again we stopped to check it out. This time the GPS showed us on a direct line for the trail and a small path led between the snags blocking the road. There were no signs but this was it.
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What we believe happened was the Forest Service stared counting mileage about half a mile after Sullivan started. Then the final approximate quarter mile of Sullivan’s directions had been since blocked by the logging operation because after a brief walk on the road we came to a second small barrier behind which we found an overgrown road such as he had described.
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In any event according to the GPS we had found the trail and were on our way down to Eagle Creek. We finally found a sign to confirm what the GPS was telling us. Near the end of the overgrown road there was some flagging and a sign announcing the beginning of the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness.
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After entering the wilderness the trail looked less and less like an old road until it finally became a full on trail.
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We ran across some interesting trees/trunks on the early portion of the trail. One of our favorites was a tree growing on top of an old trunk. You could see the new trees root system running down the length of the old trunk.
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Another old trunk had a stream flowing out from under it.
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There were many streams and creek to cross along the trail, but only one bridge.
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There was no way we were going to keep our feet dry on some the crossing but that was okay with us, the streams just added to the beauty of the forest.
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Due to the dense forest there weren’t a large variety of wildflowers but there were some including bleeding heart, wood violets, lots of trillium, and a new one to us scouler’s corydalis.
Bleeding Heart
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Wood Violets
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Trillium
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Scouler’s Cordylis
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scouler's corydalis

Open areas where were filled with salmon berry bushes.
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We were up above Eagle Creek at times and then we would be walking next to the water for a bit. It was a decent sized creek lined with lush forests.
Eagle Creek in the Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness
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We didn’t see a lot of wildlife on this hike but I think that was partially due to the lushness of the forest. At one point we startled a deer that was in the creek but all I saw was splashing then a brown and white flash as it ran into the trees. What we did see was an Ouzel, an interesting spider, a couple of newts, and one of our favorite little song birds that I believe is a Pacific Wren.
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We turned around when we reached the end of the Eagle Creek Trail. Here it connected to the Eagle Creek Cutoff Trail which fords Eagle Creek before heading up a ridge to the Old Baldy Trail.
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The Eagle Creek Cutoff ford
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We had a little drizzle from time to time up to this point but as we began our return trip the drizzle turned to a light rain. We made quick work of our return slowing only due to the climb back up the old road. It had been a great hike for relaxing end to our creek streak with. Next up we’re going to attempt to get a view, but in the Pacific Northwest Spring views can be tricky. Until then Happy Trails!

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Eagle Creek

This year we are redoing several hikes for one reason or another. The first of our redo’s was Eagle Creek in the Columbia Gorge. We had attempted this hike back in October of 2012 but we weren’t able to get to the final two falls due to the trail being closed because of a forest fire. Being Fall the water flow was also very low so the falls we did see were nowhere near their peaks. Having learned from our timing issue I put this one in the middle of our first week of vacation in order to catch the falls at a good flow and to hopefully avoid the crowds that visit the gorge trails on the weekend.

We arrived at the trailhead at 6:30am and set off on the trail. Portions of the trial had to be blasted out of the side of the cliffs when it was constructed making for some dramatic views.
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One immediate difference from our previous trip was the presence of many wildflowers. Plectritis, larkspur, and giant blue eyed mary lined the trail. In some open places and shooting star could be seen near seepage.
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The first big fall can be seen after 1.5 miles via a viewpoint looking up Eagle Creek to Metlako Falls.
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Shortly after leaving the viewpoint a set of signs announce the .5mi side trail down to Punchbowl Falls. The difference from our last visit was immediately noticeable when we reached Lower Punchbowl Falls.
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Even more noticeable was the creek level below Punchbowl Falls. In October we would walk on dry rocks far enough out to get a nice view of Punchbowl Falls, but now the only way to see the falls from below was to wade out into the creek.
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Punchbowl Falls
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Punchbowl Falls
Another difference was the tree that had fallen down into the pool below Punchbowl Falls which happened sometime this past Winter.

The main trail then travels above Punchbowl Falls where a partly obscured view looks down into the bowl.
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Some arnica was blooming here.
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The trail crosses many side streams that are flowing into Eagle Creek from the canyon walls. These were much pretty this time as well.
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The next major falls along the trail is Loowit Falls. This was the most disappointing of the falls in 2012.
Loowit Falls
That was not the case this time. Not only were the falls much fuller but a lovely patch of Larkspur lined the trail at the viewpoint.
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The next marker is High Bridge at the 3.3 mile mark where the trail crosses over Eagle Creek on a foot bridge. Scenic views abound here too and not just down at the creek.
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Next up is Skoonichuck Falls. This one is hard to get a good view of as it requires a little scrambling down to a little ledge above the creek. In 2012 I didn’t go down to the better viewpoint but I made it down this time.
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The trail crosses back over the creek at 4 and a half mile bridge. On our previous trip we’d had lunch shortly after crossing this bridge below Tenas Falls. In 2012 we didn’t realize these were a named falls, it was just a scenic place for a break. We found our way back down to the spot this time to see the difference.
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Continuing on the trail it enters the Mark O. Hatfield Wilderness in the Mt. Hood National Forest. Not long after entering the wilderness the trail crosses Wy’East Creek where you can see the top of another waterfall back in the forest a bit.
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There is a primitive trail that leads back to the falls. It requires a lot of climbing over, under and around debris but eventually you arrive at the base of the falls where a decent trail leads behind them. There was another drastic difference in Wy’East Falls.
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I hadn’t bothered to go behind the falls the last time but this time I couldn’t pass up the curtain of water.
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Our previous trip had ended shortly after leaving Wy’East Falls at a trail junction with the Eagle Benson Trail where there was a posted notice of the trail closure.
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This time we were able to continue on passing more wildflowers, distant falls, and cliff edged trail.
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Near the 6 mile mark we got our first glimpse of Tunnel Falls.
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Tunnel Falls got it’s name from the tunnel that was blasted out of the rock in order to pass the trail behind and the falls and continue on up Eagle Creek.
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Leaving Tunnel Falls the trail is at it’s most dizzying. Sometimes called the vertical mile the trail traverses along the cliff to the next and final big fall – Twister Falls.
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Twister Falls was really interesting but also very difficult to get a good view of. The best view is from a little ledge just below the trail.
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Looking down the chasm gives you an idea of the complexity of this fall.
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Above Twister Falls the trail levels out but is extremely rocky and somewhat slick for a bit. Heather had gotten ahead of me and was focused on something in the creek as I approached.
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It turned out to be a pair of Harlequin Ducks who were paddling around a pool diving for food.
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Harlequin Duck

After hanging out with the ducks for a bit we started on our return trip. The sun was shining and the butterflies had come out.
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When we got back to Loowit Falls I stopped to take a couple more pictures with the different lighting when Heather notice a pair of ducks in the creek below. It was another (or the same?) pair of Harlequin Ducks.
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It was a lot of fun to go back and redo this hike at such a different time of year. Being able to compare the changes that the seasons bring and to also finally reach Tunnel & Twister Falls made this a very satisfying hike. No matter what the season – Happy Trails!

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Brice Creek & Trestle Falls

A few posts ago I mentioned that the trail was a classroom. It seems as though we always learn something out on a hike, and our recent trip to Brice Creek was no different. During the hike we learned that rough-skinned newts love to play hide-and-seek, and they stink at it. πŸ˜€ We’ll get to that later, but first a little about the trail.

Brice Creek is located to the east of Cottage Grove, OR and flows into the Row River which in turns empties into the Willamette. There are several trailheads located along the creek in the Umpqua National Forest making it possible to choose the length of your hike. We chose to start at the West Brice Trailhead and hike to the other end of trail at the Champion Creek Trailhead. From there we could visit a pair of waterfalls on Trestle Creek.

It was a little misty and cloudy as we set off on the trail.
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After a brief stint on an exposed hillside the trail entered an old growth forest with plenty of lush green moss on the ancient trees. We also crossed several small but scenic streams.
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There were a few flowers blooming, mostly white varieties that are typical in older/denser forests.
Anemone
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Vanilla Leaf
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Solomonseal
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Most of the trillium was already finished but from the leaves and the few we did see it was clear they were very large in this area.
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The trail had been up above Brice Creek until coming down to the bridge for the campground. From there the trail stayed closer to the creek for awhile providing a number of chances to get to the creek and get an up close view.
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At one point the trail disappears along a bedrock section. The wet weather made for some slipper footing but the exposed rock was home to the most colorful flowers we would see all day.
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Larkspur
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Larkspur

The creek had many moods in this section and the clear water made it easy to see what was underneath the surface.
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We then climbed up and away from the creek again before descending to another footbridge 2.6 mi from the last, this time to Lund Park.
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We’d read that there was a meadow at Lund Park and were hoping that it might have some good wildflowers. We were a little disappointed when we arrived to find a couple of yellow flowers, some bleeding heart, and a lot of white wild strawberry blooms was all there was.
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Someone had put together a somewhat substantive rock collection on one of the picnic tables though.
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We started getting a few sun breaks after reaching Lund Park and in just another .5mi we reached a trail junction with Upper Trestle Falls trail. We would be returning down this trail after visiting the lower falls and taking the Upper Falls trail from the other end at the Champion Creek Trailhead. Before we get to that though this is where the hide-and-seek lesson comes in.
We had been seeing a lot of newts on the trail and noticed that when they were trying to get our of our way they tend to stick their head into or under something.
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This wasn’t the first time we’d observed this behavior. From a 2011 hike:
Rough-skinned Newt
Just after leaving Lund Park I passed by one of them and turned to Heather to have her stop to make sure it didn’t get stepped on. When we stopped it headed for the first thing it could stick it’s head under – Heather’s shoe πŸ˜€
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All I could think of is a toddler playing hide-and-seek. Apparently if they can’t see us we can’t see them. Heather was able to move and leave the newt unharmed and we’d discovered natures worst hide-and-seek players.

Back to the trail junctions and sun breaks.
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In another .5mi we had reached Trestle Creek Falls trail which would take us to the lower falls. After a brisk quarter mile climb we could see our destination.
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I got to the end of the trail where a pile of debris had collected and took another picture but the log was still interfering with the view.
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Some careful log walking got me to the gravel bar on the other side of the debris where I was able to get an unobstructed photo.
Lower Trestle Creek Falls
There was another little island of exposed rocks just before the next set of logs but a 15 to 20 foot gap lay between them and my rocks. I decided that wet socks were worth a look at the splash pool and dashed across the water to the other set of rocks. I was getting over this set of logs so I declared victory there and did the splash and dash back and carefully picked my back to the trail.
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As we were preparing to leave the falls we met a group of hikers coming up the trail. They were lamenting the fact that they had not brought their trekking poles with them and asked about the loop to the upper falls. We had both expected to see them again on the loop but never did. Returning to the Brice Creek trail we crossed Trestle Creek on a nice footbridge and finished the last half mile to the Champion Creek TH. The Upper Falls Trail starts just a bit down the road from the trailhead and climbs stiffly 1.4 miles to the Upper Falls. We both thought it was a pretty challenging 900′ climb but the reward at the top was well worth it. The upper falls was located in a wide bowl and was split into two levels. The trail wound around the bowl and behind the falls allowing us to experience the full force of the falls up close.
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Behind Upper Trestle Creek Falls

The Sun was out for our return trip which we made in pretty good time since I’d taken most of the pictures on the way by the first time. We had been discussing the lack of colorful flowers along the way, and when we got back to first exposed area we noticed that we had completely missed a field of plectritis. There was also a patch of what I believe to be giant blue eyed mary.
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There was also a lone yellow flower.
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It took us a lot longer than I had figured to complete the hike, but when we got home and looked at the GPS it had us going a couple of miles further than I had calculated. I’m not entirely sure what made up the difference, but it explained the extra time so we decided to just go with it since it made us feel better about getting back later than expected.

Happy Trails
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Proxy Falls & Separation Lake

They say timing is everything. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it certainly can make a difference in hiking. The time of day, of week, and of year can greatly impact the experience on any given trail. That was certainly the case on our recent visit to the Three Sister Wilderness. The plan was to hike to Separation Lake and back, a 13.7 mile trek. While I was planning the hike though I got to thinking that the trailhead was awfully close to the Proxy Falls trailhead on the Old McKenzie Highway (Hwy 242). Proxy Falls was a hike that we had been wanting to do at some point, but at only 1.7 miles it didn’t warrant the 2:45 minute drive. It was only about 11 miles from our turnoff on Foley Ridge Road for the Separation Lake Trail though so we decided we’d do the loop there as a warm up for the longer hike.

Proxy Falls is a very popular hike. The trailhead is located along the highway, the distance is manageable for hikers of all ages and types, and most importantly the falls are quite impressive. During the summer months the parking spots fill quickly, but on this day we were by ourselves when we arrived at 8am. The old highway is closed during the winter months and doesn’t reopen until June, but just a couple of weeks ago the first snow gate had been opened on the west end allowing access to the trailhead. The Proxy Falls trail loops over a lava field and past the two falls before returning to the highway. The falls are the stars of the show, and being the only ones there we were able to explore and enjoy them all to ourselves.

The lava flow
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The first fall that you reach is Lower Proxy Falls
Proxy Falls
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Next up is Upper Proxy Falls. The pool of water at the bottom of the falls flows underground reappearing a few miles away.

Pool beneath Upper Proxy Falls
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Upper Proxy Falls
Upper Proxy Falls
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Upper Proxy Falls

Our timing was great in this case. The falls were flowing very strongly due to the time of year and we had had a very popular trail all to ourselves :). We hopped back into the car and headed back toward the Separation Lake trail for part two of the days hikes.

Unlike the Proxy Falls trail the trail to Separation Lake is lightly used. We weren’t sure what we would find for conditions as it was unlikely the Forest Service had done any trail maintenance since last year. We were once again the only car at the trailhead which suited us just fine. The trail quickly entered the Three Sisters Wilderness as it headed down toward Separation Creek.
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The trail crossed several creeks all of which were easy to manage either on bridges or by rock hopping.
Bridge over Louise Creek
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Another creek crossing
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One more
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At one point we passed a tree stump littered with pieces of pine and fir cones. We’d never seen such a large pile and kept expecting to see the fattest chipmunk ever nearby.
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The path was very brushy in places and our feet and lower legs were soaked as we passed through the damp leaves.
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A number of early flowers were out and many of the bushes and trees were beginning to leaf out.

Vanilla Leaf
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Fairyslipper
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Red Currant
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Trillium
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Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape

George Creek is the final small creek that the trail crosses before reaching the much larger Separation Creek. This was the most scenic of the smaller creeks at it had a small waterfall at the crossing.
George Creek
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After 3.5 miles the trail finally gains a view of Separation Creek. It looked like a river compared to the other creeks we had crossed.
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Separation Creek

After following along the creek for 2 miles the trail splits. The Separation Lake Trail crosses Separation Creek on a log bridge while the Separation Creek Trail continues on deeper into the Three Sisters Wilderness. That trail is apparently no longer maintained and closed due to excessive downed trees. We crossed over the creek and continued on toward the lake. Not long after crossing the creek we were greeted by the smell of skunk. It wasn’t actually a skunk but rather a marshy area filled with skunk cabbage.
Separation Creek crossing
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Skunk Cabbage
Skunk Cabbage

A little over a mile after crossing the creek the trail reaches Separation Lake. It was a nice little lake with a couple of campsites. We were greeted by the usual birds and chipmunks (and a mosquito or two). We took a break here and had a snack at which point a couple of sets of ducks appeared on the far side of the lake followed by an Osprey who was scoping out the small fish that had been jumping in the lake.
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The ducks
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The osprey
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After the food break we strapped our packs back on and made the return trip back to the car. On our way back we finally ran into the first and only other people we would see – a couple and their dog were headed in to camp. We were pretty tired when we reached the trailhead but it had been a great day of solitude in the wilderness. Happy Trails!

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