Donaca Lake – Middle Santiam Wilderness

We recently returned from our final overnight backpacking “test run”. Our destination for this round was Donaca Lake in the Middle Santiam Wilderness. The wilderness, established in 1984, consists of 8900 acres in the Willamette National Forest. There were several potential trailheads that we could have started at and we chose to park at the Pyramids Trail. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/willamette/null/recarea/?recid=4334&actid=64

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This trailhead left us with the least amount of driving time, but it was by no means the shortest hike to Donaca Lake. That was okay with us since we were wanting the extra distance to get used to hiking with our packs over 12 miles at a time, and coming from this trail we would be able to do the majority of the Middle Santiam River hike described in William L. Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in the Central Oregon Cascades. After crossing a little footbridge we turned left on the South Pyramid Creek Trail which traversed the SE flank of the South Pyramid for 1.5 miles where it briefly joined road 572 at a trail junction. On the opposite side of the road was the Crescent Mountain Trail. This was the opposite end of the trail we had taken up to the top of Crescent Mountain earlier in the month. The South Pyramid Creek Trail picked up about 10 yards down the road reentering the trees on the same side that we had just exited.

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The trail soon began following an unnamed stream downhill toward South Pyramid Creek. We crossed over this stream a couple of times, sometimes on a bridge and other times not.
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As we neared South Pyramid Creek the forest showed signs of logging activity on our left. This meant a lack of trees and shade, but it also meant there were tons of berries that had taken advantage of the sunlight and disturbed soil. We noticed several different varieties of huckleberries/blueberries, trailing blackberries, and what turned out to be Gooseberries.
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Gooseberry

Since we didn’t know what they were for sure we didn’t sample the gooseberries, but the rest of the berries were thoroughly tested. 🙂

The trail crossed road 2047 where a sign indicated it’s continuation 800′ to the right.
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We turned up the road, passed over the creek and started looking for the continuation. We hadn’t really thought out just how far 800′ was and at first we thought we’d passed by the trail since we felt like we’d gone plenty far. We backtracked looking for an sign of the trail and tried pushing through some trees thinking that we might have seen it. Once we stopped for a minute and really considered that 800′ is nearly three full football fields we realized we hadn’t gone far enough so we headed back up the road. I spotted a sign ahead just around a bend and announced that I’d found it, then looked to my left to see I was standing next to a trail and hiker sign. What I had seen was actually a sign for the South Pyramid Horse Camp and I had completely missed the trail.
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The trail was much fainter and overgrown in this section. It appeared that the trail had been rerouted at some point which would explain why my maps and Garmin did not show the 800′ road walk and instead showed the trail continuing directly across the road. It would also explain the trail junction that we came to not far from the road. It wasn’t on the Forest Service Topographical Maps I had nor was it shown on the Garmin (in fact both showed that the South Pyramid Creek Trail ceased to exist before reaching the Chimney Peak Trail which was the one we needed. Sullivan’s map showed the trail connecting and so did the Willamette National Forest trail description, but standing at this junction we became a bit confused. There was only one sign at the junction.
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It was on a tree facing away from the direction we’d come. It was a “Y” junction so one trail went up and away to the right and the other headed down to our left. The distances didn’t match up with anything I had seen or read about but I knew we wanted to head toward Shedd Camp. The map in Sullivan’s book showed the South Pyramid Creek Trail intersecting the Chimney Peak Trail .3 miles from the Middle Santiam River and the Shedd Camp Shelter and we had planned to turn left at that point to visit a small waterfall on the river. The 2.4 mile distance listed on this sign just didn’t make any sense though. We headed left wondering if we would magically arrive at the river in .3 miles but after walking for awhile it became apparent that that would not be the case. After approximately 1.5 miles we spotted what I thought was a really random sign pointing back up the trail we’d just come down identifying the trail as the South Pyramid Creek Trail.
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After a moment pondering why there would be a sign here we noticed another trail and sign. We had finally arrived at the Chimney Peak Trail.
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This time there really was only .3 miles to the Middle Santiam River. We took a break there to look at the falls and enjoy the river.
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After the break we headed back up to the trail junction and took the Chimney Peak Trail. We were now following the route described in our 100 Hikes book which put an end to the trail surprises. It was 2 miles from the junction to our next marker, Pyramid Creek. Along the way we spotted a couple of very interesting patches of Indian Pipe.
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There was a nice camp site at Pyramid Creek which was my backup plan just in case there were no sites available at the lake. The creek itself was fairly wide with no bridge, and there was no way we were going to get across dry.
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After fording the creek we crossed road 2041 which was abandoned years ago due to numerous washouts and entered the Middle Santiam Wilderness.
Road 2041:
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Edge of the wilderness:
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It was obvious that the trail doesn’t get a lot of use as the vegetation was encroaching on most of it.
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The trail was joined by the Gordon Peak Trail 2.3 miles from Pyramid Creek and shortly after we came to Swamp Creek. I had expected a swampy bog here given the name but found a nice little creek that required another fording.
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After crossing Swamp Creek we were only about three quarters of a mile from Donaca Lake. I had read somewhere that there was only one camp site at the lake and we had just passed a couple who had been staying at the lake so we were anxious to get there to make sure we could get a tent site. They told us the lake was lovely and it did not disappoint. From the first view through the trees we could see it was a very pretty little lake.
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As we were passing along the lake we spotted a trail up to a small camp site away from the lake so we headed up and claimed our spot. After dropping off our gear we headed back down to the trail to explore the rest of the lake. The trail came to an inlet creek where we found another bigger campsite and a nice little gravel beach.
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Just a little further up the trail was a third campsite but we decided to stay where we had dropped our packs because we didn’t want to be in the path of the lake access. Before going back and setting up camp though we sat on the gravel beach and watched as Newts and fish swam around in the lake while birds and bugs zoomed over the water.
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After watching the wildlife for awhile we headed back to our packs and set up camp.
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While we were setting up another group arrived and settled down at the big site so when we were ready to go back down to the lake we took our dinner and headed to the third site we’d found and followed a little path to a different gravel beach. After dinner we hung out for awhile before turning in for the night.
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I woke up a little before 5AM and headed down to the lake to see if I could get any sunrise pictures. There wasn’t enough light for my camera to pick up much but there was a colorful stump that Heather had remarked on after dinner. It’s reflection in the water was eye catching.
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After Heather woke up and we’d eaten breakfast we packed up and started our return trip. It was going well until we hit the 3.8 mile sign. It was the longest section of trail I can remember hiking. We kept thinking we were going to arrive at road 572 and the Crescent Mtn. Trail junction but instead we just kept climbing. Even when we finally spotted the road it seemed as though we paralleled it for miles. We had a mini celebration when we did finally pop out on the road before tackling the final mile and a half. The final stretch went much quicker as it was primarily downhill and we eventually arrived back at the Pyramids Trailhead.
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In 27.7 miles of hiking we had seen only the two groups totaling five people over the two days. If you’re looking for a nice quite forest where you can have the trail to yourself the Middle Santiam Wilderness may just be the place for you. Happy Trails!

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June Lake

One of the things that makes for a good hike is variety. We have often commented on how much variety can be packed into just several miles of hiking. The terrain, vegetation, wildlife and views can vary drastically in a relatively short distance. That was the case on our most recent hike in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

We had toyed with the idea of making this an overnight trip but the uncertainty of suitable water sources gave us pause so we amended our plans to make a day hike out of it. We stuck with our original plan to start at the June Lake trail head and headed up to the Loowit Trail from there. Originally we planed on turning right on the Loowit and heading over to the Plains of Abraham to find a camp spot and then explore further on down to Loowit Falls, but that would be too far for a day hike so instead we decided to go left and check out Dryer Creek Meadows.

It was a cloudy morning as we set off on the June Lake Trail. From the trail head it was a mere 1.3 miles to June Lake on a nice wide trail that gently climbed through a forest with plenty of ripe berries to snack on.
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We were surrounded by fog when we arrived at June Lake which made it difficult to get a good view of the 40′ waterfall that falls on the far shore of the lake.
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While exploring the small lakes shore we spotted a couple of frogs in the muddy water.
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The best view of the falls came from a side trail at the north end of the lake shortly after a switchback. The reflection of the falls created the illusion of water both falling and rising to the surface of the lake.
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About a quarter mile from the side trail we arrived at the junction with the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain on a 29.5 mile loop. We turned right and quickly emerged from the forest and began crossing the first of three lava flows that make up the “Worm Flows”. Unlike some of the other lava fields we have hiked over there was no visible trail in many places, just a series of posts and rock cairns to aim for.
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It meant a lot of rock hopping and scouting for the best looking route to the next marker. While we were working on making our way over the lava the clouds began to give way and we were treated to a clear view of Mt. St. Helens.
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Mt. St. Helens

After crossing the Worm Flows the trail began descending into Swift Creeks canyon where we would find Chocolate Falls. On our way down a colorful western tanager posed for some pictures.
Western Tanager
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Before reaching swift creek we passed through a small pocket of vegetation.
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We were happy to find water flowing over Chocolate Falls as Swift Creek often dries up overnight and doesn’t begin flowing again until after 11AM on some days.
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We took a snack break at the falls and while we were relaxing we were joined by what I think was the same western tanager who decided it was time for a bath.
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We continued on the Loowit Trail from Swift Creek and began a steep climb that passed through forest and meadows. We also were treated to a great view of Mt. Adams and a descent view of Mt. Hood looming above the clouds.
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Meadow filled with nuttall’s linanthus
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Mt. Adams from one of the meadows
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Passing through a meadow
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Mt. Hood from the meadow
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Mountain heather and a blue copper butterfly
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Two miles from Chocolate Falls we crossed the Ptarmigan Trail which climbs up Monitor Ridge to the Rim of Mt. St. Helens.
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We have a date with that trail later this year.

We crossed the trail and shortly came to the edge of another lava flow. A doe was making her way up toward Monitor Ridge showing off her superior rock hopping skills.
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This crossing was .9 miles of post to post travel.
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From this section we had a great view of Mt. St. Helens, Monitor Ridge, and the Green Knob.
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After navigating the lava flow we were once again in a forest. This one was drier and the trees more sparse than the previous sections we’d passed through. Cicadas chirped loudly from the pine trees and scattered flowers dotted the sandy landscape.
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The trail then began alternating between trees and meadows.
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As we came around a corner I noticed something peering out of a tree further up along the trail.
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A bull elk emerged and gave us a quick look before heading downhill deeper into the trees.
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Elk

We turned around at the dry Dryers Creek and retraced our steps back toward Chocolate Falls.
Mt. St. Helens from the dry bed of Dryers Creek
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Mt. Adams had been hidden by clouds while Mt. Hood had nearly fully emerged from them.
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There was evidence of the increased afternoon snow melt when we arrived back at Chocolate Falls.
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Chocolate Falls
We took our shoes and socks off and soaked our feet for a bit in the creek before setting off from the falls. When we did get going we left the Loowit Trail and turned right along Swift Creek on the Swift Ski Trail.
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Chocolate Falls and Mt. St. Helens

It was an easy trail to follow and we quickly descended .5 miles to the Pika Ski Trail which we took and headed back toward June Lake.
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The Pika Trail was easy to follow for the first few tenths of a mile plus it was lined with ripe blueberries, huckleberries, and a few strawberries.
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The easy trail didn’t last long though as we still had to cross part of the Worm Flows to return to June Lake. The crossing here was the most difficult of the day as there was no sign of any trail at all and the few orange poles ended halfway across the lava flow.
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Luckily from the final pole June Lake was visible on the other side of the flow.
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We headed for the lake and eventually made it down to the sandy bed of a dry creek which we climbed out of and returned to the June Lake Trail. The lake was clear now so we stopped to get some unobstructed photos of the waterfall and lake before beginning the final leg of our hike.
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We took our time on the final 1.3 miles partly due to being tired from all the rock hopping and partly because we were picking berries as we went. The hike had totaled 13.4 miles and in that distance we’d passed two waterfalls, a lake, several creeks (dry and flowing), through several sections of forest, multiple meadows, and over four different lava flows. We’d seen an elk, a deer, chipmunks, golden-mantled squirrels, frogs, and various birds. We sampled at least 6 different kinds of berries, saw a variety of wildflowers, and had views of three cascade volcanoes. It had been worth the effort. Happy Trails!

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Burnt Lake to Paradise Park Overnight

Our latest overnight trip brought us to the Mt. Hood Wilderness where we planned to continue honing our backpacking skills. We plotted out a trip that would bring us to some new places as well as some previous favorites. The plan was to start at the northern trail head of the Burnt Lake Trail, pass Burnt Lake and climb up to East Zig Zag Mountain where we would take the Zig Zag Mountain Trail up to the Paradise Park Trail. From there we would head up to Paradise Park and camp somewhere along the Paradise Park Loop Trail near Split Rock. We’d been to East Zig Zag Mountain and Paradise Park in 2012 on separate hikes, but we had come in on different trails for those trips.

We set off from the Burnt Lake trail head shortly before 7am and quickly entered the Mt. Hood Wilderness.
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The trail climbed between Burnt Lake Creek and Lost Creek for 1.9 miles before crossing and then recrossing Burnt Lake Creek. Near the 2.5 mile mark an unmarked side trail to the left led downhill to Lost Creek Falls. (Waterfalls on Lost Creek became a theme for this trip.)
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The trail then veered away from Lost Creek and climbed for a mile up to Burnt Lake. Along the way we got our first glimpses of Mt. Hood.
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We stopped briefly to check out Burnt Lake but decided to wait until the return trip to locate the best viewpoint of Mt. Hood from the lake shore.
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From Burnt Lake the trail climbed up to the Zig Zag Mountain Trail where we took a brief detour to visit the summit of East Zig Zag Mountain. Heather decided to remain amid the wildflowers at the junction with the southern portion of the Burnt Lake Trail while I climbed up to the former lookout site.
Mt. Hood and Burnt Lake from the south trail junction:
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Trail heading up East Zig Zag Mountain:
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Wildflowers:
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Mt. Jefferson:
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Mt. Hood:
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Butterfly:
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Heather waiting at the junction:
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After getting my wildflower fix we headed East on the Zig Zag Mountain Trail and began climbing towards Paradise Park. The trail began with a nice gradual ascent through open meadows of beargrass, huckleberry, and other bushes. It was fairly overgrown but easy enough to follow.
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We then came to a forested ridge where the trail suddenly steepened – downhill! We had been at 4600′ when we joined the Zig Zag Mountain Trail and needed to get up to 5800′ in 3.7 miles to reach Paradise Park. Going down meant more climbing on the way up as well as having to climb up on the way back down the following day. There were at least 4 fairly brief but steep descents before we began climbing again. At least were some nice views of the mountain ahead of us and a view of our goal.
Paradise Park is the light green areas just above the tree line:
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The Paradise Park Loop Trail passed just below the pile of boulders:
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As we neared the Paradise Park Trail Junction we began to see lots of avalanche lilies, a telling sign of recent snow melt, and a few patches of snow still hanging on.
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After joining the Paradise Park Trail we passed through several meadows and a nice viewpoint of the Zig Zag River before arriving at the Pacific Crest Trail in a mere .2 miles.
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Zig Zag River Canyon and Mississippi Head (the rock outcropping at the center of Mt. Hood):
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Oh the choices!
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We crossed over the the PCT and climbed up to the Paradise Park Loop Trail which was a fairly steep .5 miles and 400′ above us. It was late August when we visited in 2012 and to this day the wildflowers in the meadow at the junction of these two trails remains the best display we’ve seen. There was little indication of the scene to come this trip as the snow was still melting off and only a few early flowers could be found. The view of Mt. Hood was still top notch though.
Late August 2012
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Mid July 2014
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Western Pasque Flower
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Avalanche lilies and paint
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We headed left at the junction and started looking for our tent site. We passed several good locations but had something specific in mind. We were looking for a site close to a water source, with a good view, but also with some shade as it was quite warm. We made our way North passing the remains of the Paradise Park Shelter, crossing both branches of Lost Creek, and passing Split Rock before we found what we had been looking for.
South Branch Lost Creek crossing
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Mt. Hood from the crossing
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North Branch Lost Creek crossing – The snow shelf made this one tricky as the creek was flowing under the edge of the snow.
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Split Rock
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Camp
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After setting up camp we spent the rest of the afternoon and evening alternating between exploring the area and relaxing as we waited for sunset.
Mountain heather beginning to bloom
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Cinquefoil
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Shooting Star
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Marsh marigolds
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Western pasque flowers
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Mt. Jefferson
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Mt. St. Helens
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East Zig Zag Mountain and some of our route from earlier in the day
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Yocum Ridge on the other side of the Sandy River. The waterfall is on what appears to be an unnamed fork of the Sandy River but I’ve seen it referred to as Paradise Park Creek.
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The Sandy River
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Waterfall flowing down into Lost Creek
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Marmot in the grass near the falls
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Our shadows as the Sun was getting lower
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Small waterfall on Lost Creek
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Sunset
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After watching the Sun go down we turned in. For some reason I wound up awake shortly after 4am so I grabbed the camera again and waited for the sunrise.
The Moon was super bright all night and a few clouds had moved in to the South by the morning
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Starting to get some sunlight
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Then came the colors
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After a breakfast of Mountain House freeze dried scrambled eggs and bacon (yes we managed to use our stove this trip 🙂 ) we packed up camp and began our return trip. We decided to continue on the loop which would bring us back to the PCT which we could then take South back to the Paradise Park Trail junction. This would allow us to visit a few waterfalls on the way back. The first of the falls is on Rushing Water Creek as it comes down from Paradise Park. There was a nice display of wildflowers just before the falls here.
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There was a trail crew from the Pacific Crest Trail Association gathered at the base of the falls that was out doing some trail maintenance.
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It had clouded up and as we were passing the falls rain began to fall lightly. We decided to stop at the next set of falls to waterproof our sleeping bags just in case it started to rain harder. The next set of falls were on Lost Creek. Both branches come down within a short distance of each other and both in scenic waterfalls.
North Branch Lost Creek
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South Branch Lost Creek
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It was raining off and on but not very hard but then we began to hear thunder. We picked up our pace as best we could as the thunder became steadier and we started to see the flashes of lighting. We had made it to the Paradise Park Trail and were back on the Zig Zag Mountain Trail when the hike got really interesting. We came around a bend in the trail and less than 20 yards ahead of us was a black bear. We all instantly froze, even the bear for a split second before it turned in bolted back into the forest. All I’d had time to do was say “bear” before it had vanished. I had just put the lens cap back on the camera and tucked it under my shirt to keep the rain off of it so I had no chance at getting a picture. Heather went for the bear spray just to be safe but it was long gone.

We made it back to the steep sections that we were dreading without further incidents. The climb was pretty much as ugly as we’d expected but the rain had let up without ever getting too heavy so we were dry at least. Dry until we reached the overgrown section of trail that is. By the time we emerged from that section we looked and felt like we’d forded a thigh-high creek. 🙂

When we got back to Burnt Lake we headed down past campsite C where there is a great view of Mt. Hood from the lake shore.
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We ticked off the remaining 3.5 miles at a brisk pace pausing occasionally to sample the salmon and blueberries that were ripening nicely along the trail.
Oval-leaf blueberries
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Mt. Hood had delivered another amazing adventure. Happy Trails!

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Crescent Mountain

Our wildflower adventure in the Old Cascades continued on our way home from Bend on July 6th. The hike we’d chosen was Crescent Mountain which is less than five miles from Iron Mountain as the crow flies. A 4.5 mile trail climbs up the SE ridge of this crescent shaped mountain through a series of meadows to another former lookout site.

The first 2.5 miles climbed through a nice forest with a crossing of Maude Creek at the 1.3 mile mark.
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The trail then entered the first meadow which was full of bracken fern and some wildflowers.
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The ferns gave way to more wildflowers as the trail continued to climb. Then we spotted a field of beargrass ahead. It turned out to be the most densely packed we’d ever seen.
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Butterflies and birds could be seen flying about in all directions. Behind us a view of Mt. Washington and The Three Sisters opened up across the open hillside.
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There was a nice variety of flowers in bloom.
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The meadows lasted for about a mile before the trail reentered the forest and climbed a ridge to a trail junction. Taking the uphill fork to the right we quickly popped out on the rocky summit where the former lookout had stood. The view here was better than Iron Mountain with Three Fingered Jack unobstructed and Crescent Lake below nestled in the curve of the mountain.
Mt. Jefferson
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Mt. Washington and The Three Sisters
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Three Fingered Jack and Black Butte
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Diamond Peak
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Mt. Hood & Mt. Adams
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Crescent Lake
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There were more flowers, butterflies and birds up at the summit and despite a brief encounter with mosquitoes when we left the meadows we were left alone to enjoy the scenery.
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Hummingbird enjoying the paint
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Coming down we ran into a pair of hikers passing through the meadow who were equally impressed with the flowers. We agreed that we’d probably timed it as well as could be hoped. It was a great way to end the holiday weekend. Happy Trails!

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Iron Mountain and the Meadows of Cone Peak

July means wildflowers in the Old Cascades, the eroded peaks that are now the western foothills of the Cascade Mountains. We were headed over to Bend, OR for the 4th of July weekend so we seized the opportunity to check out a couple of the hikes on the way over and back. On the way over to Bend we decided to revisit Iron Mountain, a hike we had done in 2010 during the final week of July. We missed the wildflower peak that year by a couple of weeks so we hoped we would be hitting the area at a better time this visit.

On our previous visit we did the loop clockwise by starting at the trailhead located on road 15 and heading up Iron Mountain first then through the meadows on Cone Peak. This time around we parked at Tombstone Pass and headed counter-clockwise in order to hopefully have the meadows to ourselves before the trail got crowded.
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We took a short detour on the Tombstone Nature Trail that circled around a meadow with flowers and a view of Iron Mountain.
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After finishing the nature trail we crossed Highway 20 and started climbing up the Cone Peak Trail. We started seeing flowers almost immediately. It seemed every open area had an assortment of different flowers.
Lupine, Columbine & Thimbleberry
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Wild Rose
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Columbine
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Larkspur
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Penstemon & Blue Gilia
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Cat’s Ear Lily
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Woolly Sunflower
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Flower variety
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Columbia Windflower
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Wallflower
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Paintbrush & Larkspur
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More variety packs
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We’d already lost count of the number of different flower types we’d seen by the time we got to the main meadow 1.2 miles from the highway crossing. In the meadow we found even more types of flowers as well as views of Cone Peak and Iron Mountain.
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Cone Peak
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Cone Flower
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Giant Blue-eyed Mary
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Iron Mountain
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Scarlet Gilia
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We’d been hearing some elk off and on while we were in the meadow and as we were exploring a rocky outcrop Dominique noticed some brown spots in a meadow up on Iron Mountain. There were 7 elk moving through the brush grazing on the vegetation as they went.
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We left the meadow and reentered the forest as we wound our way around Iron Mountain to the junction with the Iron Mountain Lookout Trail. There were still flowers everywhere and now we were starting to get views of the snowy Cascade Mountains.
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Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson
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The Three Sisters
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At the site of the former lookout is a railed observation deck and bench which allowed for a relaxing rest as we took in the 360 degree view which spanned from Mt. Adams to Diamond Peak.
Mt. Adams & Mt. Hood
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Mt. Jefferson beyond Cone Peak and the top of Three Fingered Jack behind Crescent Mountain
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Mt. Washington
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The Three Sisters, Mt. Bachelor & The Husband
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Diamond Peak
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The view was so good even a hummingbird took a break from the penstemon to take it in.
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We headed back down to the trail junction and continued on our loop passing more flowers, recrossing Highway 20, and returning to Tombstone Pass on the Old Santiam Wagon Road.
Beargrass
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Bunchberry & Queens Cup
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The flowers had certainly been better than on our previous visit and it looked like they would be pristine for another week or two. It was a great way to start a holiday weekend. Happy Trails!

flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645515763015/
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Badger Creek Wilderness Backpack

One of our biggest goals this year was to finally take some overnight backpacking trips. We spent much of the past Winter researching and acquiring the various gear we needed and then penciled in a few 2 day/1 night test outings. The first of those test runs occurred this past weekend in the Badger Creek Wilderness. Our first visit to this wilderness area happened back in late May when we hiked the Badger Creek Trail as a scouting trip for camp sites in anticipation of this trip. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2014/05/26/badger-creek/

Our planned route was to start at High Prairie which is located 8.5 miles from Highway 35 on the east side of Mt. Hood. From the parking area we planned on heading up to the summit of Lookout Mountain on the High Prairie Trail, taking the Divide Trail east toward Flag Point, then dropping down to the Badger Creek Trail on the Badger Creek Cutoff Trail. On our previous visit we had pegged Post Camp as our intended camp site which we would get to by heading just over a mile east from the junction with the Badger Creek Trail. For our return trip we would follow the Badger Creek Trail to Badger Lake where we could once again pickup the Divide Trail and follow it back up out of the valley to Gumjuwac Saddle and then on to the High Prairie Loop at Lookout Mountain.

We had been watching the weather forecast intently as a series of rain showers had been threatening to carry into the weekend, but by Friday night it looked promising enough to give us the green light. The drive to High Prairie was wet but as we made our way around Mt. Hood we managed to find a pocket of blue sky. We had lost the pocket by the time we arrived at the trail head though and found High Prairie to be in the cloud bank.
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The 1.3 mile climb to Lookout Mountain was cold and cloudy but we didn’t have to deal with any rain. What we did have to contend with though was a decent amount of snow still covering parts of the trail.
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As we neared the junction with the Divide Trail we ran into a large patch of snow. At first we thought the trail was underneath the snow and we’d have to climb up the ridge on top of it, but as we climbed up onto the snow we could see the snow free trail on the other side.
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After turning east on the Divide Trail we made a brief visit to the former lookout site atop Lookout Mountain. There were no views to be had so we didn’t stay long and quickly returned to the Divide Trail to continue east toward Flag Point. The trail on this side of Lookout Mountain was buried under the snow.
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We didn’t have to go far before the trail reappeared along with some trail side flowers.
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A mile and a half from Lookout Mountain the Fret Creek Trail joined up on the left. We took a quick detour here to check out Oval Lake.
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Just over a quarter mile from the Fret Creek Trail junction we reached Palisade Point and finally found some blue skies and views.
Palisade Point:
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Flag Point lookout in the distance on the ridge:
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Lookout Mountain still in the clouds:
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Looking SE toward Central Oregon:
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After enjoying the blue skies at Palisade Point we continued another 1.2 miles to dirt road 200 where we found the Badger Creek Cutoff Trail (sans signage).
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This was an interesting trail as it passed through various types of vegetation on it’s way down to Badger Creek over 3 miles and 2000′ below. We spotted a number of flower types and quite a bit of wildlife on this section.
Bluebells
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Balsamroot
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Paintbrush
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Vetch
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Scarlet gila
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Lupine
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Penstemon
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Queen Anne’s Cup
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Arnica
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Columbine
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Cascade Lily
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Tent worms
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Black-headed Grossbeak
Black Headed Grossbeak
Western Tanager
Western Tanager
Douglas Squirrel
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Unidentified bird
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Unidentified bug
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When we reached the Badger Creek Trail we turned left and made our way to Post Camp. We arrived to find it empty so we had our pick of spots. 🙂
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After we had gotten all set up we did a little exploring on the Post Camp Trail and then spent some time sitting by Badger Creek. We only saw a couple of groups of hikers the rest of the afternoon and no one else stopped so we wound up having the whole area to ourselves. We set about testing out all our gear which, with the exception of the matches that wouldn’t light, worked out well. By 7pm the sound of the creek and the early morning had just about put us to sleep so we ended up turning in early.

I wound up waking up to that annoying feeling that I might need to use the bathroom but wasn’t really wanting to have to deal with finding my headlamp and getting out of my cozy sleeping bag. I lay there for awhile debating whether or not I could tough it out and go back to sleep. I finally grabbed my phone to see if I could make it until morning. When I checked the time it said 10:42pm – I wasn’t going to be able to hold out that long. lol I got my light and shoes and headed out to do my business and then returned to the tent to try and go back to sleep. Just a few minutes after getting back into my bag I heard a loud snapping of wood coming from the direction of the food bag that we’d hung. My heart was pounding as I listened for any other sounds but all I could hear was the creek. I started trying to figure out what might have made that noise. A tree or branch falling would have ended with a thump as it hit the ground so I ruled that out which left me with some sort of good sized animal. I never heard another sound and the food bag appeared untouched in the morning and there was no sign of any visitors so we’ll never know what it had been.

Due to the early bedtime we wound up awake at 5am and with no way to light our stove we at some Cliff bars and got ourselves packed back up. We were back on the trail by 6:15am and headed toward Badger Lake. We passed a few tents on the way but no one else appeared to be awake. We arrived at Badger Lake with some blue sky above but there were still clouds hanging around.
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We walked along the lake and across the dam that created it to a trail junction. Here the Badger Lake Trail led along the shore while the Badger Creek Trail paralleled it further back in the forest. All the maps we had, including the Garmin, showed that the Divide Trail intersected both of these trails so we opted to take the lake trail and stay closer to the water. That turned out to be a big mistake. The trail quickly petered out and was covered with blow down. According to the Garmin we were really close to the Divide Trail so we started picking our way over, under, and around the downed logs in an attempt to find it. The next time I checked the Garmin it showed we had passed the intersection so we turned back and uphill to try and pick it up a little higher on the hillside. We couldn’t find it or any flagging or tree blazes (they were probably all lying on the ground) so we had to make our way back to the fork with the Badger Creek Trail and try that way.

That was the correct way and we easily found the clearly marked Divide Trail.
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There was still some blow down on this trail but not anywhere near as bad.
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The Divide Trail climbed along the hillside for 2.5 miles to Gumjuwac Saddle where we had a choice. We could follow road 3550 back to High Prairie or stick to the Divide Trail and do some extra climbing.
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We chose the Divide Trail which proved to be a good choice. We passed through a number of meadows filled with wildflowers and views as we climbed.
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The views weren’t bad either.
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As we neared the junction with the High Prairie Loop Trail we began to get glimpses of Mt. Hood. The lower portion anyway as a pesky band of clouds veiled the top.
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We reached the junction but continued on the Divide Trail a few hundred feet more to a viewpoint where we took a little break and took in the surrounding view.
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From the junction with the High Prairie Loop Trail it was just under a mile back to the parking area. In that time we crossed a cinder covered hillside, passed a scenic rock outcropping, walked through a treed forest and finally a meadow just starting to bloom with flowers.
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The scene was quite different at High Prairie when we returned from that of the day before. We were the only car present when we had set off but now the parking area was nearly full and the clouds had lifted giving us a better view of the wildflower meadow filled with shooting star and marsh marigolds.
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We felt like it went really well for our first attempt at backpacking and are looking forward to some more trips in the future. Happy Trails!

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Facebook: Day 1-https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10204356396217193.1073741889.1448521051&type=1
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