Three Sisters Wilderness Days 3 & 4

I am combining the final two days of our Three Sisters Backpacking trip because the last day was simply a 7 mile hike back to the trailhead along portions of the Louise Creek and Separation Lake Trails that we had done on the first day.

The day after our successful off-trail exploration of Linton Creek it was time to pack up camp and move on. We woke to find that the clouds had finally won out overnight and now covered the Three Sisters.

We were once again visited by the deer who stayed back in the trees this time as they made their morning rounds. We packed our things and ate some breakfast then headed back toward Husband Lake. The frog situation around Eileen Lake seemed to have worsened with the arrival of the clouds. There were even more frogs on the trail and the going was pretty slow.

We discovered that tapping our trekking poles on the ground in front of us got the frogs to start getting out of the way sooner so we tapped our way through the frogs and past the lake. The frogs weren’t the only animals out as we had spotted several different types of birds by the time we’d gotten to Husband Lake.





We topped off our water at Husband Lake and then headed for the big trail junction where we would be looking for the Separation Creek Meadow Trail which would take us down to Indian Hole Falls. We had not seen the trail when we were at the junction on the first day and when we got back there we still didn’t see it. Heather thought it might be just a bit up the trail toward the James Creek Shelter and went to investigate. She was right and just over a little rise there was an unsigned but clear trail heading down to the right.

The Forest Service described this trail as “a primitive trail that may be hard to find at times.” That sounded a lot better than the impassable due to heavy blowdown description of the Separation Creek Trail. There were a few downed trees but the path was easy to see and some trees had been blazed to mark the trail.


The trail met Separation Creek in what must have been a spectacular field of lupine. Now it had all gone to seed.


It had also been invaded by grasshoppers.


As we walked they would all jump in unison and make all kinds of noise. I would have liked to get a better look at them but there were also plenty of mosquitoes present and whenever I stopped they landed. We were just about to Separation Meadow and we hadn’t had any issues following the trail up to that point. Then the trail just disappeared. We knew it was to the right of the creek and we noticed a tent set up at the far end of the meadow so we simply aimed for the trees between those two things.


We had to hunt for a couple of minutes to find the trail again once we arrived at the trees. We managed to follow it fine after that all the way to a trail junction with the trail from Buck Meadows. This junction was also unsigned but it was marked with a rock cairn.

We turned left at the junction and began to descend toward Cole Chuck Meadows. Views included Sphinx Butte and The Wife.


The trail went around Cole Chuck Meadows without ever entering it then headed steeply downhill. There was a large meadow below to our left and we could hear Separation Creek roaring in the distance. The trail had loose rocks and dirt and it also passed below the Indian Holes, springs that flowed across the trail and down toward Separation Creek.


The trail then entered the large meadow at a narrow point. The grasses were tall enough to hit us in the face as we passed through. We then entered another treed area before arriving at Separation Creek.

The creek was much wider and deeper than it had been in Separation Meadow. Several other creeks and springs had fed into it since then. We crossed on an old log and and quickly arrived at another unsigned trail junction with the “impassible” Separation Creek Trail.

We could hear Indian Hole Falls from the junction. It was only a couple hundred yards to the top of the falls. This was another impressively massive waterfall. An upper viewpoint allowed for a close up view of the top portion of the falls while a steep scramble down along the creek led to a lower moss covered viewpoint where the entire cascade was visible.



The Three Sisters Wilderness had managed to wow us again and we sat on the mossy ledge of the lower viewpoint in the cool breeze of the waterfall. We climbed back up from the lower viewpoint and decided to head out the the upper one.

After checking out that view we headed back up to the trail to pick up our packs. It was my turn to get stung by an angry yellow jacket. Just as I was about to step back onto the trail I felt a sharp pain on my ankle bone. It took me a minute to figure out what was causing it but once I realized what it was I was able to knock it out of my pant leg. I took a moment to be a bit of a baby then we resumed our hike and head back toward the creek crossing.

As we were passing back through the tall grasses of the meadow we heard some strange noises ahead. It was a family of grouse. The adult stood watch as the young made their way into the safety of the trees.



She stood guard until they were all safe then headed into the trees herself.

We climbed back up the steep trail past the Indian Holes and went straight past the rock cairn. Our plan was to stop at Honey Lake to fix an early dinner and fill back up on water for the final day since we knew there were no sources from Buck Meadows on. We weren’t sure what we’d find at Honey Lake because none of the maps or the Forest Service showed a trail going to the lake but we had seen the pointer for it at the junction by Buck Meadows. As we were looking for the mystery trail we spotted various wildlife along the way.



Sure enough we came to a side trail with a pointer for Honey Lake.

We momentarily had second thoughts about our plan when we saw how far below us the lake actually was.

We knew we needed water though and the lake looked very pretty so we headed down the steep path to the lake shore. It really was a pretty lake and larger than we had been expecting.


We noticed a tent back up in the forest on the far side of the lake and headed around the lake counter-clockwise looking for a good spot where we could set our things down and cook dinner. We found a pair of spots where people had obviously camped, fire rings and all, both of which are illegal within 100 feet of water in the wilderness. One of the fire rings was full of cigarette butts. Yay for people, not 😦 We took off our packs and wandered out to a little peninsula where the breeze kept the mosquitoes at bay.


We took a nice long break at the lake and felt recharged after having our dinner and we were ready to tackle the climb back up from the lake.

The climb back up turned out to be a lot easier than we’d expected and we were soon back on the trail to Buck Meadows. We stuck to the trail this time when we arrived at the meadows and wound up going right around the area we had considered camping in. Once we saw that we had passed it we decided to just keep going and we’d look for a spot further along the meadows. The view from the meadow was changed a bit from our first day with clouds now hiding The Husband.

There wasn’t a viable spot to camp anywhere else along the meadows that we saw so we just kept going keeping our eyes open for an acceptable site. About 1 1/2 miles from the junction at Buck Meadows we came to a dry pond. On the opposite side of the trail was a flat area perfect for setting up camp.


We woke up so early the next morning that we needed our headlamps as we began packing up. We ate breakfast at the edge of the dry pond and then set off down the trail. The 2 man trail crew had done a fine job clearing the trail and we were making great time since we’d just been on this trail a few days earlier and weren’t distracted by many new sights. There are always some new things to see though and we noticed a few flowers we’d missed on the first day.


We reached the Separation Lake Trail a few minutes before 9am and according to our Green Trails map we then had 1.2 more miles to go to the trailhead.

We figured we’d be back at the car around 9:45 based on our normal pace so we were surprised when we saw a familiar wooden bridge that we remembered being near the trailhead sooner than we expected.

We actually wound up back at the car before 9:15. We were moving pretty fast but not that fast. Checking another map it showed the distance from the trailhead to the junction as 0.9 miles which made a little more sense. We were happy to be able to change into some clean clothes and different shoes, but we were also sad to have the trip end. We were already thinking about our next backpacking trip, wondering what new adventures awaited us. Happy Trails!


Three Sisters Wilderness Day 2 – Linton Creek Exploration

The second day of our four day backpacking trip was set to be an adventure. Our plan was to spend the day “off-trail” exploring Linton Creek which is home to several rarely visited waterfalls. We had camped at Eileen Lake on the NE side of The Husband and originally planned on hiking down the official trail to Linton Creek where we had eaten our dinner the night before, but during our evening exploration of the area behind our campsite we realized we should be able to follow a dry creek bed we’d seen and reach Linton Creek by a more direct route. It would also allow us to avoid another trip through all the frogs along Eileen Lake.

I woke up a little before 5 and went down to the lake for a bit to look at the mountains.

Heather woke up and I was busy getting ready for our breakfast and the days hike when I looked up and noticed there were deer about 50 feet from our tent. Heather was still inside putting her hair into braids and hadn’t noticed them yet.

I got her attention and we watched as they nibbled on some plants then entered the little meadow by our site and had their own breakfast.


They looked up at us occasionally but didn’t seem to be the least bit concerned with our presence then left the same way they’d come slowly disappearing into the forest.


After our breakfast we threw on our daypacks and got ready for our adventure. We had our compass and three different maps including the map loaded on the Garmin and I had studied the area using Google Earth. That research along with information from a few trip reports and the Northwest Waterfall Survey had us feeling pretty confident that we would at least be able to reach Duncan Falls and possibly Upper Linton Falls if time allowed. I also established a turn around time in order to make sure we had enough time to climb back up from wherever we ended up.

We followed a use path from our campsite through the little meadow along the dry creek into a larger meadow. The use path ended at the larger meadow so we hopped into the dry creek bed planning on following it as far as possible.


We had to leave the creek bed in the meadow for a bit when we started running into small pools of water. We got back in shortly after leaving the meadow but that also didn’t last long because the creek bed was getting deeper and we spotted downed trees blocking it further downhill. We didn’t want to get stuck in the bed and be forced to backtrack so we got out and started bushwacking through the forest.

We gradually made our way downhill toward the meadows surrounding Linton Creek. There was some blowdown in the forest but it wasn’t ever too bad and the vegetation was sparse enough not to cause any problems. We used the Garmin and our maps to keep us heading in the direction we wanted. We were aiming for the northwestern end of the meadows where Linton Creek enters the forest near a series of whitewater. We managed to reach the meadows fairly close to that area and made our way to the glassy creek.


There were a few flowers still blooming including some very tall monkshood.


The South Sister loomed behind us over the creek and meadows.

Shortly after Linton Creek enters the trees it takes a horseshoe bend through a rocky chasm where it puts on its first whitewater show. We were on the south side of the creek and able to side-hill along and around the ridge that the creek bent around which allowed us some good views of the now raging creek.



After rounding the ridge we came to the first small unnamed waterfalls. A pair of short drops were visible through the trees.


A little further was another whitewater slide.

The creek was putting on a good show and we were trying to stick as close as possible to it given the terrain. When we couldn’t see the creek we listened intently for any indication of another fall. The creek then began a second horseshoe bend turning back toward the NW. Somewhere in the middle of the bend was where we would find Duncan Falls. It was one the two main targets for our hike and we heard it well before reaching it. We arrived at the top of the falls and could tell we were not going to be disappointed.


The ridge stayed and made a wide swing around the falls. We were finally able to get a good view though.


It was a spectacular waterfall. After standing in awe of this hidden gem we worked our way down a steep hillside to the creek a little ways below Duncan Falls. We could just see the bottom of the falls through some trees and briefly considered hiking up the creek to reach the base but decided against that in the end. We still had a lot of bushwacking ahead of us and the thought of wet shoes and socks was not appealing plus I was fairly certain that I’d fall in and ruin the camera.

Below Duncan Falls the creek settled down some as the terrain became a little more level.

At one point we found what looked like it could possibly be a beaver pond.



We then came upon another pair of small waterfalls.



In the other trip reports that I had seen the hikers had been on the north side of the creek from Linton Lake until somewhere below Duncan Falls. We had originally planned on staying on the south side of the creek the entire time, partly to be different, and partly because the top tiers of Upper Linton Falls were said to not be visible from the north side of the creek. That changed when we could see that we had arrived at point directly across from the start of a large meadow on the other side of the creek. It looked so much easier than picking our way over and around logs and brush and there was a perfect log to cross the creek on near us. We gave in and walked across the log and entered the meadow. I had read about the meadow and the reports called it marshy but I was hopping the dry year we were having would lessen that, but there was still plenty of wet spongy ground and both of us had soaked shoes in no time.

We aimed for the closest stand of trees and exited the meadow. We took a short side trip to check out one of two small lakes/ponds that the maps had shown toward the back of the meadow.

After checking out the pond we began making our way back toward the creek. Shortly after rejoining the creek we found another log we could cross on and got back to our original plan of being on the south side of the creek for Upper Linton Falls.

We knew we were getting close to our goal but before we got to Upper Linton Falls there was another nice little fall with a great viewpoint.

The next fall we came to was the top tier of Upper Linton Falls.

The roar from the creek was amazing as it thundered steeply down toward Linton Lake.

We found our way down to the third tier where there was a nice viewpoint.


The fourth tier was visible below.

The ridge we were on began to swing away from the creek though. We could see Linton Lake far below and went in search of a decent view but there were too many trees to ever get a good clear look.


We found one final viewpoint of Upper Linton Falls. We appeared to be somewhere between the 5th and 6th tiers.

There was a big drop below us but no way to get a look at the lower tiers from the south side. We decided that just gave us an excuse to come back some day and hike up from Linton Lake to see Lower Linton Falls and get a look at the lower tiers from the north side. In the meantime we sat at the edge of the enormous fall recharging in the cool breeze it generated.

We had made it to our goal just before the established turnaround time and now it was time to climb back up to Eileen Lake. This time we did stick to the south side of the creek avoiding the marshy trap of the meadow. By doing so we located a couple more small falls we’d missed on the way down.

We also managed to find a balloon which happens more often than you’d think (and we’d like) in the forest. We retrieved the garbage and packed it out with us.


We arrived back at Duncan Falls to find it was just as impressive the second time around.


After Duncan Falls we left the creek and took a more direct route toward Linton Meadows which avoided the steep ridge above the whitewater of the first horseshoe bend. White fluffy clouds hung over the mountains when we finally reentered the meadows.

We were paying more attention to the views than to where we were going and wound up passing the spot where we had entered the meadows in the morning. We turned up a different creek bed instead. It looked similar enough that we both thought we remembered certain details as we passed them but as the drainage got steeper and we started noticing more blowdown than we’d remembered we knew we had made a wrong turn. Using the GPS and our maps we could see that we were just on the other side of the ridge we’d come down but we had found a different little meadow here and it’s creek had a little more water which was home to some larger frogs and fish.




We were able to make our way over the ridge at the far end of the meadow and picked up our earlier path just about where we had entered the dry creek bed near the start of our hike.

According to the Garmin we had covered 9.3 miles. We both had a few scrapes and bruises as well as some mosquito bites and Heather had been stung in the shin by a yellow jacket but it had all been worth it. We spent the evening at Eileen Lake watching clouds float by and then disappear over the Three Sisters.

Happy Trails!


Three Sisters Wilderness Day 1 – Separation Lake Trailhead to Eileen Lake

We just started backpacking last year and we really enjoyed it so we were looking forward to our first outing of the year which we recently completed. I plan on covering our trip over three entries starting with this post featuring our first day.

We had originally planned on spending a long weekend in the Opal Creek and Bull of the Woods Wilderness areas, but with the early snow melt in the mountains we changed our destination to the Three Sisters Wilderness. I had been wanting to check out the waterfalls along Linton Creek since seeing a trip report that was posted on in 2013. There is no official trail to any of the falls along the creek and in most places there is no trail at all. The few reports I found on the area all began their hike at Linton Lake along Highway 126 and climbed up toward Linton Meadows. In the report on Portlandhikers they had hiked up the creek then over to Eileen Lake for the night then returned to Linton Lake the next day. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of carrying our full packs while bushwacking uphill so I came up with a different plan.

The solution was to start the exploration of Linton Creek from Eileen Lake where we would already have established our campsite. This would allow us to explore down stream as far as Upper Linton Falls using daypacks. I began studying our maps trying to plan the trip. The three closest trailheads to Eileen Lake are the Obsidian Trailhead, the Foley Ridge Trailhead, and the Separation Lake Trailhead. I quickly settled on the Separation Lake TH since it was the closest to us, didn’t require a limited entry permit, and offered a couple possible return loops.

We had been to the Separation Lake Trailhead in May 2014 when we hiked to Separation Lake so we were familiar with the trail when we slung our packs on and set off into the Three Sisters Wilderness.

This time we took the Louise Creek Trail when we reached the junction just under a mile from the trailhead.

Our plan was to follow the Louise Creek Trial for 7.2 miles to another trail junction at Buck Meadows then continue up to the Foley Ridge Trail which would take us to yet another junction. From there we would take the Linton Meadows Trail to a final junction where we would head for Husband Lake and our ultimate destination of Eileen Lake.

As we climbed up the Louise Creek Trail we met a couple that were hiking out after having camped at Sisters Mirror Lake. They had come down a portion of the Separation Creek Trail from the James Creek Shelter to Indian Hole Falls and reported that the trail did indeed have many downed trees across it. This confirmed what the information on the Forest Service website which called the trail “impassible due to heavy blowdown”. We had planned on visiting Indian Hole Falls then taking that trail down to Separation Lake where we would camp on our third night but had nixed those plans after seeing the information on the website. The other couple said the falls were beautiful and we still planned on visiting them but by using the Separation Creek Meadows Trail instead.

They also reported that there were a couple of people doing trail maintenance just up the trail and that they had not seen any water along the trail for quite some time. We had plenty of water for the day but it was good information to have for our return trip so we didn’t short ourselves hiking out.

The Louise Creek Trail was indeed dry and most of the flowers had long since passed although a few stragglers could be found here and there. There was also the remains of what must have been an impressive beargrass display lining much of the trail.



The meadows of Buck Meadows were also dry as far as we could tell. There were some patches of green but no visible water. Purple aster dotted the dry grasses and were popular with the butterflies.


We got our first look at The Husband from the meadows. We knew Eileen Lake was on the far side of the rocky mountain.

The final meadow was surprisingly long and we wound up losing track of the trail near the far end and just headed cross county to a small knoll with trees. We were now planning on staying somewhere in the area of the meadows on our final night and this seemed to be a viable spot. We picked up the trail again near the signed trail junction.

The pointer to the left was for the Foley Ridge Trail and the right was for Honey Lake. Oddly none of our maps or the Forest Service website showed a trail going to Honey Lake, instead the trail passed by on its way to the Separation Creek Meadows Trail. It was also unclear if either or both forks were still considered the Louise Creek Trail. Our two maps indicated the right hand fork was the Louise Creek Trail but the Forest Service showed it as the left fork. Either way we needed to get to the Foley Ridge Trail so we headed left. The trail switchbacked uphill offering a brief view of Diamond Peak to the south before arriving at the Foley Ridge Trail junction.


It had been a tough climb up for us not being used to carrying full packs so we rested a bit at the junction where we were joined by a hummingbird.

Shortly after setting off again we passed the first water we’d seen all day, a few small ponds that still held some water.



We followed the Foley Ridge Trail for almost two and a half miles to the next trail junction.

Four trails met at this junction. The Foley Ridge Trail we had come up and on its right was the trail to the James Creek Shelter. To the left were two trails one to the Pacific Crest Trail and to the immediate left the trail to Linton Meadows. We had expected to see a fifth trail at the junction, the Separation Creek Meadows Trail, which appeared to also meet here according to the maps. We thought it was odd but it was a question for another day and headed toward Linton Meadows.

We had been on this portion of trail during our backpacking loop around the South Sister the previous year. The trail passes through a pumice plain which manages to support a good amount of colorful vegetation.



Just .3 miles from the big junction the Linton Meadows Trail split again. The right fork headed down to Linton Meadows while the left fork pointed to Husband Lake. The left fork then passes Eileen Lake before rejoining the right hand fork at Linton Creek.

We stopped at Husband Lake for a moment to take in the views before continuing on our way.



We finally came upon a creek with flowing water between the lakes coming down from The Husband.

On our previous visit there had been tons of frogs along the shore of Eileen Lake and we had been wondering if we would find the same thing this time. That question was answered upon arriving at the lake.


There were more this time than before and we slowly made our way around the lake being careful not to step on any of them. We were planning on setting up camp on the far side of the lake where we would be able to set up at least 100 feet away from the water and the trail per wilderness regulations. We found our spot on a small rise with a small meadow behind us and no frogs to have to watch out for.

After setting up camp we decided to hike down to Linton Creek to have dinner in the same location we had eaten at the year before and to fill up on water from the creek. We tried going around the lake on the other side hoping the frogs would be less but it proved just as challenging and slow. On our way down to the creek we spotted 4 deer also making their way down the meadows.


We arrived at Linton Creek to find it flowing strongly. It is primarily fed by Linton Springs so the dry year apparently hadn’t effected it as much as the other creeks. The springs also mean the water is cold and we had forgotten just how cold until we tried to soak our feet. The water was too cold to keep them in for more than 10 or 15 seconds.

After having dinner and filling up on the wonderfully cold water we returned to Eileen Lake where we explored the area behind our campsite then sat by the water watching the frogs along the shore and small fish occasionally jumping from the water disrupting the reflection of the mountains.

It had been a great start to our trip and the adventure had just begun. Happy Trails!


McNeil Point

A week after visiting Mt. St. Helens we were headed to another of the Cascades volcanoes – Mt. Hood. We were meeting my parents in the morning for a hike up in the area of McNeil Point. The plan was to begin at the Top Spur Trailhead with them and hike together to an area below McNeil Point where ponds collect the melting winter snows. From the ponds Heather and I would head up to McNeil Point to visit the shelter there and continue up the ridge behind it toward Mt. Hood. We picked up my parents at McNeil Campground in the morning and were ready to set off on the Top Spur Trail just before 7AM.


The first section of trail led through a forest filled with huckleberries and blueberries. Tree roots covered the path in many areas making for an uneven surface for walking.

The Top Spur Trail joined the Pacific Crest Trail for a tenth of a mile before splitting off at a four way trail junction where the PCT and the Timberline Trail intersect.

We took the middle of three forks following the Timberline Trail toward the Muddy Fork River. The PCT continued down the far right-hand fork and the left-hand fork was the continuation of the Timberline Trail on its way toward Cairn Basin.

It would have been a little shorter hike if we had taken the Timberline Trail toward Cairn Basin which was the more direct way to get to the ponds below McNeil Point, but by heading toward the Muddy Fork we would pass through some open meadows on the south side of Bald Mountain where Mt. Hood would be visible. The meadows fill with flowers in early summer but were mostly passed now, however the view of Mt. Hood was still there.

After passing through the second (smaller) meadow on Bald Mountain the trail reentered the forest. We were now looking for a side trail that would take us over the top of the Bald Mountain ridge to the Timberline Trail on the north side. Heather and I had taken this trail in 2012. At that time it was an unmarked use trail up and over the ridge. We spotted a worn trail to the left in the area we expected and headed toward the ridge. I managed to lead us over a small ridge and right back onto the Timberline Trail that we had already been on. We had to walk back through the small meadow and look for a different trail. Just around the corner from where we had turned off the trail the first time there was another side trail. This one had a nice new sign indicating it was the Cut Off Trail. Apparently it was now an official trail and there was a similar sign on the far side of the ridge.

Now that we were back on track we headed uphill through the forest. More root covered trail awaited as we passed through some past-its-prime beargrass and headed up the ridge.


The trail climbed fairly gently up the ridge passing a couple of open views of the mountain.


In a typical year the flowers along this hike would have been at or near their peak in mid-July but this year the majority of them had already gone to seed. We did manage to spot a few late bloomers along the ridge though.



False Hellbore

Western Pasque Flower (seed-head)

After a few switchbacks the trail final leveled out some as it traversed a hillside where several branches of McGee Creek flowed across the trail. Additional flowers began popping up along this stretch but only the late blooming gentians and monkeyflower in larger quantities.
A branch of McGee Creek

Aster or fleabane





Another branch of McGee Creek

The trail passed below a pair of rock outcroppings below McNeil Point. At the second outcropping we found the first of the ponds completely dried up.
Passing the first outcropping.

Dry pond

Dry pond below the rocky outcrop and Mt. Hood beyond.

The second pond still had a little water and a nice view of the top of Mt. Hood.


We erroneously followed the trail leading away from the second pond believing it would reconnect with the Timberline Trail which had forked to the right after passing the dry pond. The trail we were on eventually petered out and we were left with a short bushwack to get back onto the correct trail. We popped back out of the trees onto the trail and turned left continuing toward the McNeil Point Trail and Cairn Basin. We passed a junction with the Mazama Trail, a trail we had hiked in 2013, and decided it was time for our party to split up.

Heather and I would go ahead at our own pace and head up to McNeil Point, and my parents would continue on toward Cairn Basin. We headed off amazed at the lack of flowers along the trail. On our previous visit to McNeil Point on 8/20/12 and Barrett Spur on 8/12/13 this section had been full of flowers but here we were a full month earlier than those visits and the flowers had long since passed. It was a clear indication of just how hot and dry this year had been. The good news was it was a clear day we had still had the views. In addition to Mt. Hood we could see three Washington snow peaks to the north.


Mt. Adams

Mt. Rainier

Mt. St. Helens

We left the Timberline Trail at the sign for McNeil Point.

The trail up to the shelter begins on a ridge next to silty Ladd Creek.


Heather enjoying the day.

The trail then crossed a rock field where there is normally also a snowfield. Not this year though.

Once past the rock field the trail passed beneath hills that hid most the mountain. Here we began to encounter more flowers in bloom.






There was also a lovely little creek lined with monkeyflowers.



We faced a choice as we neared the shelter. We could head straight for the stone building or we could veer uphill and gain the ridge behind the shelter and then head up it. On our previous visit we had simply gone to the shelter and turned back there. (We had also visited Cairn & Wy’East Basins and Eden Park that day.) We decided to head directly for the ridge and turned uphill.

As we headed for the ridge Mt. Hood began to peek out from above it.

Heather spotted an interesting looking ladybug along the way.

We gained the ridge and could see our route laid out before us with a closer look at Mt. Hood being the reward.

As we were climbing and looking around at all the scenery I noticed something brown near the top of the ridge to our left. It didn’t look like it belonged there but we couldn’t make out what it exactly was at first.

Once again the 30x zoom on our camera came in handy and we were able to see that it was a good sized buck bedded down for the day.

The best flower display of the day was in a little basin below the ridge where the deer was. Lupine, Mountain Heather, Paintbrush, Partridgefoot, Bistort, and Pasque flowers were all present.




The buck kept an eye on us as we continued up a very steep section of the ridge. Looking back down near we could see the trail to the shelter below and beyond McNeil Point was Bald Mountain and the ridge we and climbed from there.

McNeil Point Shelter

We were near what looked like the end of the climb.

We were wrong and there was one more stretch of uphill ahead of us.

To our left was Barrett Spur where we climbed to in August of 2013.

To our right was Yocum Ridge which we visited later that same year.

On our right was also the Sandy Glacier which feeds the Muddy Fork, a branch of the Sandy River. The scenery around the Sandy is just amazing.






We stopped on on a rocky spine just before a saddle where it would have required a sketchy looking descent to continue on any further.

We took a couple of pictures then pulled out some potato chips for a snack.



There had been two small groups ahead of us but they had since headed back down so we had the view almost to ourselves.


We headed back down toward the shelter, our next destination. Along the way we spotted a few flowers we’d missed on the way up.
Yellow cinquefoil

Cats ear lily

Blue-bells of Scotland

We paid a quick visit to the shelter then continued to make our way back down.

A few small clouds had formed by the time we arrived back at the ponds.


And the gentians had opened up some in the sunlight.

It was another hot day so we stopped at a nice pool in one of the branches of McGee Creek to filter some cold mountain water into our Hydroflasks.

We had some great views on the way down the ridge toward the trailhead. This had been the first day we’d been able to pick out an ice cave on the Sandy Glacier.



We had decided to take the shorter path back opting not to go around Bald Mountain with its views again so we said goodbye to the mountain at the last viewpoint along the ridge before heading back into the trees of the Mt. Hood Wilderness.


We found my parents back at the car, having finished their hike about 15-20 minutes prior to us. They had made it to Ladd Creek on the Timberline Trail and turned back there. It was a great day to be on the mountain and we ended it with dinner back at my parents campsite. Happy Trails!


Ape Cave and Ape Canyon

We are in the midst of revisiting several trails that we first hiked in 2012. Next up after our return trip to the Table Rock Wilderness we headed to the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument for a second hike on the Ape Canyon Trail. In 2012 we had done a second short hike along Lava Canyon after finishing the Ape Canyon Trail and this time we decided to add a visit to Ape Cave to the agenda.

At 12,810 feet long Ape Cave is the longest known Lava Tube in North America. It is also one of the more popular places to visit in the monument so we decided to tackle this trail first in an attempt to beat the crowds. A staffed information booth awaits at the trailhead, but we had arrived before it opened for the day.

A short paved trail leads to an kiosk with signboards and the lower cave entrance.





An above ground trail leads past the lower entrance to an upper entrance (or exit).

We decided to hike up to the upper entrance and then descend down the lava tube to it’s end 3/4miles past the lower cave entrance. The trail to the upper entrance passed through the forest before skirting a lava flow and passing some smaller lava tubes that were not part of the cave.




The trail actually did pass over the cave three times before arriving at the site of the upper entrance. We walked passed the entrance initially following a well used path about 50 yards too far before realizing our mistake. There was no sign marking the upper entrance and the hole was much smaller than the lower entrance. It took a moment for us to spot the metal ladder barely sticking up from out of the dark hole.


Climbing down the ladder was interesting as the first 17 steps angled downward before the ladder suddenly dropped straight down for the final 10 or 12 rungs.

The cave extends another .1 miles or so beyond the upper entrance so we turned north and walked to the end before turning around and heading for the lower entrance.

The cave was really neat. The rock surrounding the tube was full of colors and different textures. White portions of rock reflected our headlamps imitating rays of sunlight along the walls and ceiling.



A third of a mile from the upper entrance the trail past under a skylight where green ferns and mosses grew on the rocks.

The lower entrance was another 1.1 miles beyond the skylight. This section of the lava tube was a workout. Ten different rock falls required scrambling over and around piles of lava rock and a pair of lava falls, drops of around 8 feet, proved a challenge to descend. The second lava fall was particularly difficult requiring us to slowly lower ourselves down using small nubs on the cave floor as handholds. The scenery of the cave was worth the effort and we wondered if climbing up would have been easier than coming down as we had.




It was fairly slow going but we eventually made it to the base of the staircase leading down from the lower entrance.


We headed down the lower end of the cave which was, as the sign said, a relatively easy walk. We turned around when the cave had become small enough that we would have had to crawl to continue any further.



We had started to run into a few more people near the end of the lower cave and on the way back to the lower entrance the number of people increased dramatically. We exited up through the lower entrance and headed for the car.

In hindsight we should have descended through the lower entrance as it seemed like it would have been easier to ascend up through the cave and it would likely have avoided the crowds that had formed later in the morning in the lower cave.

We drove from the Ape Cave parking area to the Ape Canyon Trailhead for our second hike of the day. On our previous visit we had taken the Ape Canyon Trail to the Loowit Trail and then followed that trail to a junction with the Abraham Trail which covered a total of 12.7 miles. Our second hike that day at Lava Canyon was only 1.3 miles for a 14 mile total. This time around we had already done nearly 5 miles at Ape Cave so the plan was to stop at a spring along the Loowit Trail in the Plains of Abraham. The small parking lot at the Ape Canyon Trailhead was full so we parked along road 83 and walked to the start of the trail.


We were on high alert as we started the trail due to warnings about local wildlife.

The Ape Canyon Trail starts in the forest next to a lahar created by the Muddy River when the mountains 1980 eruption sent a large portion of the Shoestring Glacier down the valley. Our previous visit had been on a clear day in Mid-September where the views across the lahar to Mt. St. Helens were spectacular.

We were not to be so lucky on this day with our Mt. St. Helens views but the temperature was pleasant and we hoped to see more flowers this time than we had previously.


We did see more flowers along the lower section but we were a little late due to the weather we’d been having this year.




The trail passes through an old growth forest starting at the 1.4 mile mark then climbs a series of switchbacks as it heads up a ridge toward the Loowit Trail. We passed a few viewpoints that had provided impressive views on our first visit but today we had to rely on those memories to picture the mountain.


After 4 miles the trail enters the blast zone from the 1980 eruption. The trail spends winds a half mile through the blast zone above forested Ape Canyon.

A narrow slot at the top of the Canyon frames the creek below and apparently Mt. Adams in the distance. I say apparently because we have not been able to confirm this on either of our visits. In 2012 the Cascade Creek Fire was burning on the slopes of Mt. Adams filling the sky with smoke and clouds were now playing the same role on this day.



The trail ends after 4.5 miles at the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain.


We turned right here heading for the Spring .8 miles away. This section of the Loowit Trail passes through the Plains of Abraham, a pumice plain with a barren looking landscape which is really fascinating. Heading NE Mt. St. Helens looms on the left across the broad plain while hills on the right reveal the force of mountains eruption. Trees lay blown down on the hillsides facing the mountain while other sides are striped away exposing various layers of rock. Other areas green with trees and other vegetation.

Flowers are sparse but some still manage to bloom in what looks like the most improbably conditions.





One thing that didn’t change from our previous visit was being greeted by a marmot as we crossed this section. We couldn’t help but wonder if it was the same furry little guy.


When I had added this hike to the schedule I had hoped to find flowers near the spring where we would turn around, but with the timing being so far off this year due to the weather I wasn’t sure what we’d find. It wound up working out even though things were beginning to dry out. We spoted several different types of flowers including a nice clump of bluebell-of-Scotland.







It was no apline wildflower meadow but considering the area it was an impressive display. What surprised us was the lack of water from the spring. Despite it being September on our previous visit a small steady stream of water was flowing down the rocks and into Ape Canyon, but this time the only water was a small pool left filling a depression in the rock.

Spring fed stream



After resting a bit, and starting to get chilly due to a nice breeze and cooling our sweat, we headed back down. The clouds had only lifted a little as we passed the lower viewpoints and small pockets of blue sky teased us from above the mountain.

It had been a long but interesting day of hiking. It was also our first visit of the year to one of the major Cascade mountains and it had been a good reminder of just how much we enjoyed our hikes on them. Happy Trails!


Table Rock to Pechuck Lookout

We have two lists of “To Do” day hikes within a reasonable driving distance. One list is the hikes we have yet to do, and the second list is hikes we want to try again for one reason or another. Table Rock was one of the hikes on the later list having first visited in October of 2012. During that hike smoke from the Pole Creek fire in the Three Sisters Wilderness had limited the views and being fall it was too late for many flowers. We had seen enough on that visit to think it would be worth a second visit in early summer to see if we could catch the views and see what flowers there might be. I put it down on our schedule as our annual 4th of July hike thinking the timing might be good for wildflowers plus the drive avoided much time on freeways or busy highways.

The Table Rock Wilderness consists of 6028 acres designated in 1984 as wilderness and is managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Several trailheads access the 16 miles of trails in the area. For our hike we started at the Table Rock Trailhead which happens to be the shortest route to the summit of Table Rock, the highest point in the wilderness.


When we redo a trail I try to find some way to differentiate the hike from the earlier visit. Only 13 of our 172 hikes so far had been “re-hikes” and only 3 of those had we done the same exact trails. Three other times we added other short hikes on different trails, and on the remaining 7 we extended the hike visiting new places further along the trail. The plan to make this visit unique was to continue on past Rooster Rock, where we had turned around on our first visit, and continue on to Pechuck Lookout.

We set off on an old roadbed that is now the Table Rock Trail after rocks slides closed the road, the first at the current trailhead. We reached the second slide after .3 miles where the trail briefly entered the forest to bypass the slide.


Beyond the second slide the old road again becomes the trail for nearly another mile. Small trees and flowers now line the gravel road making it a pleasant walk.

Rabbit along the road.

At the 1.3 mile mark the trail leaves the road for good at the site of the former trailhead. Shortly after reentering the forest the Image Creek Trail joins from the right. A nice sign that had not been there in 2012 pointed to the Table Rock Trail.

From this junction the trail passes below a large rock field that extends from the base of Table Rock then swings out and around a rocky ridge before turning back toward Table Rock and entering the rock field going the opposite direction of the earlier pass below.

The rock field offers a close up look at Table Rocks columnar basalt cliffs. Numerous pikas were calling out from the rocks all around us but we weren’t able to spot any.



There were also a few flowers managing to bloom in the rocks.





The trail then reenters the forest and climbs to a trail junction in a saddle. We turned left and followed the Table Rock Summit trail .4 miles to the tilted plateau of Table Rock.

The view was indeed better than it had been on our previous visit despite a fire that had broken out on Mt. Adams the day before. We could just make out Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along with Mt. Adams in Washington and had good views of Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Washington, and the Three Sisters in Oregon.

Mt. Jefferson to the Three Sisters

Mt. Hood

Mt. Jefferson

Three Fingered Jack

Three Sisters

Mt. Adams

After exploring the plateau we returned to the junction and took the unsigned Saddle Trail toward Rooster Rock. Two things stand out about this trail. First is the ants which were everywhere. They were all over the trail and there were several large anthills right next to it.


The second thing that made an impression is the steepness of this trail as it dips down and then back out of a thimbleberry meadow at the head of Image Creek. The trail all but disappeared in the thimbleberry bushes but it wasn’t too hard to follow. The nice thing about thimbleberry is that the plants do not have thorns so they are not bad to walk through. We did have to maneuver around a couple of devil’s club plants though.


The steep climb up from Image Creek ends at a saddle below Rooster Rock. Trees here block the view of Rooster Rock but a short path to the right goes up through a small meadow to a rocky viewpoint.

I had thought this small meadow might be a good wildflower spot, and there were some but not in any large amounts.







The view toward Rooster Rock was better this time too.



After a short rest we were ready to head for Pechuck Lookout. From the saddle we needed to drop down on the other side of the ridge to the High Ridge Trail. We were now starting the portion of the hike that we had not done before and we were in for a surprise. Just on the other side of the saddle was a meadow full of wildflowers.








Many of the flowers were past their prime succumbing to the heat, but there were still enough to make it an impressive sight. In most years our timing would likely have been spot on but the hot dry weather we’d been having has all the flowers at least two weeks ahead of schedule. On the far side of the meadow the trail again entered the trees.

The High Ridge Trail was far more gentle with its ups and downs than the Saddle Trail had been. After .7 miles the Rooster Rock Trail joined from the right coming up from the trailhead on Rooster Rock Rd.

We continued going up and down along the ridge leaving the wilderness and arriving at another former trailhead along the gated road near Pechuck Lookout.

The trail continued on the far side of the road passing a nice view of Table Rock along the way.


This short section of trail was another steep one before ending at the lookout.

Pechuck Lookout was staffed from 1918/19 until 1964 with the current structure having been built in 1932. It is now available for overnight stays on a first come first serve basis. There was no one staying there so we went inside to take a look around and sign the log book.



It was too warm to stay inside for long so we headed back out into the shade and had anther bite to eat while watching the many butterflies flitting about.



Aside from the view of Table Rock only Mt. Jefferson was visible and that mountain could only be seen in a couple of spots between some trees so it wouldn’t be a good place to stay if you’re hoping for mountain views.

We returned the way we’d come, skipping the side trips to the rocky viewpoint and the summit of Table Rock. The views to the south had become increasingly hazy, but Mt. Hood looked much clearer now that the sun had passed over.


The only other hikers we saw all day were between the summit trail junction and the old road on the way back to our car and that was only two other couples. The final stretch along the old road felt really long after all the climbing we’d done. I spent part of the final 1.3 miles chasing an orange butterfly that wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to get a picture. It took awhile but Warren (as I named him) finally gave me some shots.


It wound up being a longer hike than we expected. Everything we looked at indicated we’d be doing 14.8 miles but the final GPS reading was 15.7. With the various trailheads available this could have easily been split up into several shorter hikes for more sensible hikers. The Table Rock Wilderness is certainly a place worth visiting, and there should be plenty of ripe thimbleberries come August. Happy Trails!


Bluff Mountain Trail to Silver Star Mountain

Late June is typically a good time to catch the wildflower displays on Silver Star Mountain in the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. Located in Washington between the Columbia Gorge and the snowy peaks of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Adams the Silver Star Scenic Area offers several trails. Many of the trails pass through areas that were part of the 1902 Yacolt Burn, the largest fire in Washington State’s history. The series of September fires left exposed ridges and hillsides which are now wildflower filled meadows. The two most popular routes to Silver Star Mountain are via the Silver Star Trail/Ed’s Trail, a 5.2 mile loop, and an 8.2 mile loop via the Grouse Vista Trailhead. Each of these starting points come with their own drawbacks. Road 4109 which leads to the Silver Star Trail is an awful drive full of rocks, ruts, and potholes. The Grouse Vista Trailhead is on Washington Department of Natural Resource land and thus a Discovery Pass is required to park a car there. Passes are currently $10/day or $30/annually. We had done an expanded loop starting on the Silver Star Trail in 2013 and didn’t feel like shelling out another $10 for a discovery pass so for this visit we chose a third option – the Bluff Mountain Trail.

The Bluff Mountain Trailhead has its drawbacks too, mostly a slow drive on a rock and pothole filled Forest Service road. I don’t think it is as bad as road 4109, you do pass this road on the way to the trailhead, but it is longer and took us a little over 45min to cover the 9.4 miles. It is also the longest route to Silver Star at 6.5 miles one way. The trailhead is at a poorly marked junction where the road bends around a ridge at a large swath of dirt. Only a small wooden stake marks the start of the trail which follows an old roadbed for the first 2 miles.

Both Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams were visible from the trailhead parking area. It was going to be another hot day here with the highs near 90 degrees, but it was also fairly cloudy so the air was humid and the horizon hazy. We had prepared for the heat by filling the bladders for our packs the night before and leaving them in the refrigerator, bringing a couple of additional Hydro Flasks full of water, and packing some extra salty items such as potato chips and some after hike pickles.



The old road traveled along ridges past a couple of small hills where a few trees were present. After passing the first of these hills Silver Star Mountain was visible in the distance.

Silver Star Mountain on the far right.

There were still quite a few flowers along the ridge despite the hot and dry conditions, and there seemed to be butterflies everywhere we looked.





There were even some huckleberries beginning to ripen.

One sight that was not welcome was a fire pit filled with garbage where someone had obviously been shooting a shotgun.

This is something we see far too often and it’s really disappointing that people bother to head out into nature just to make it their personal garbage can.

We continued along the road toward Bluff Mountain amid the wildflowers and butterflies. The views kept shifting as the old road made its way around the small hills along the ridge.




Little Baldy

Silver Star Mountain and Little Baldy

At the two mile mark the trail left the road and diped along the right hand side of a small knoll. At the split the view included all three of the peaks we would be passing – Bluff Mountain, Little Blady, and Silver Star Mountain.

It was interesting to be able to see so much of our route due to the open views. Often times we could see the trail in the distance giving us a glimpse of what lay ahead.

The section of trail between the road and Bluff Mountain was full of flowers. Some had seen better days a week or two before but many were still blooming strong and crowding the trail.





In addition to the numerous butterflies we were seeing we also spotted several snakes during the hike. This one was spotted as we were passing below Bluff Mountain.

New flowers and more butterflies joined the views as we passed under the cliffs of Bluff Mountain.



There were also lots of thimble and salmon berry bushes. The thimbleberries were not ripe yet but we found plenty of red and orange salmonberries ready to be eaten.



Looking back from where we’d come we could see three Cascade mountains. (Some better than others)

Mt. St. Helens

Mt. Rainier

Mt. Adams

After passing through the thick berry bushes the trail crossed a rock field then entered an forest of trees on a wide ridge between Bluff Mountain and Little Baldy.


We spotted a small rock cairn and what looked like a possible trail leading off to the right but didn’t have time to investigate.

When we emerged from the trees we were in a small meadow with a view of Mt. Hood.


The meadow was full of yellow flowers.

We also spotted some of my favorite flowers – gentians.IMG_4981

We were now on the opposite side of Little Baldy from what we’d been seeing all morning. Silver Star Mountain spread out ahead of us across a deep valley.


Little Baldy looked like a giant rock pile with a few patches of vegetation growing on its flanks.

Gentians dotted the trail wherever plants were able to grow.

As were were walking we started to hear a loud noise in the distance. At first I thought it might be thunder since the forecast had called for some storms later in the afternoon, but the noise kept growing and getting closer. Heather was the first to identify it as helicopters and then we spotted three of them crossing the sky above Silver Star.



At the 5 mile mark we reached the junction with the Starway Trail. This trail starts on the same Forest Service Road as the Bluff Mountain Trail but at an elevation almost 2000′ lower and is reportedly difficult to follow due to light usage and maintenance. We had watched for the trailhead during the tedious drive along road 41 but were unable to spot it on the way up or back down in the afternoon.

We were now on the final half mile section of the Bluff Mountain Trail before its end at the Silver Star Summit Trail. The trail skirted along the ridge amid wildflower covered slopes and mountain views.






I had been trying to get one of the many lighter colored butterflies to land long enough for a picture and finally a pink-edged sulpher landed long enough for one.

As we neared the end of the trail it suddenly forked with the left hand path heading up the hillside while the right hand side turned and began a traverse along a ridge away from the summit. We initially went right due to that fork looking more like an official trail than the left hand fork but we were getting further from the summit and starting to lose some elevation. I checked the map then the GPS unit and decided we should have taken the narrower left hand fork up so we hiked back and took the other path up to a camp site next to an old road that serves as the Silver Star Summit Trail. The only sign in the area was a small metal plate attached to a tree at the campsite.

We turned up the old road and headed for Silver Stars dual summits.


The views are great all along the long summit of the mountain. Our route was laid out below us all the way to the large dirt parking area where we’d left our car that morning.


On our previous visit we had visited the southern summit first so this time we headed for the northern rocky summit where a lookout tower once stood.


We took a seat on the rocks and ate the potato chips we’d brought along for their extra salt. They really hit the spot after all the hot climb we’d just finished. While we were relaxing and enjoying the view another pair of hikers arrived. I noticed a yellow button hanging from one of their packs and thought it might be a “I’m A Portland Hiker!!” button that some of the members of (formerly had. It turned out to be miah66 from the forum and a friend who had come up the Silver Star Trail and was planning to return via Ed’s Trail. This was the second time that we’d crossed paths with another member of the forum but the first time we realized it at the time. The first time it wasn’t until we saw a trip report posted on the website that we realized we had passed another forum member.

After a nice conversation we headed to the southern summit then started back down the road. As we were starting to turn into the campsite and the start of the Bluff Mountain Trail miah66 caught up to us. He had realized that he had an extra button which he was nice enough to gift us. After a group photo it went straight on my pack.

It was a warm hike back to the car but the views and the butterflies helped keep our minds off the heat. We arrived back at the car with a little water to spare and a shiny new button. 🙂 Happy Trails!