Tag Archives: Fireweed

Vista Ridge Trail to Elk Cove – Mt. Hood

August is typically one of our busier hiking months but this year things are working out differently. We’ve both had things come up at work leading us to change our vacation plans, the date of our annual family reunion changed, there are forest fires closing large areas of both the Mt. Jefferson and Three Sisters Wildernesses, and the upcoming solar eclipse essentially eliminated any realistic plans for hiking around the 21st.

We actually almost skipped our weekly hike this time around but knowing we’d later regret that decision we turned to Mt. Hood, which has thus far escaped the fire issues this year. Our plan was to take the Vista Ridge Trail up to the Timberline Trail and visit a few familiar areas – Eden Park, Cairn Basin, and Elk Cove.

We began at the Vista Ridge Trailhead.

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We set off through the forest which was damp from a light mist that fell for most of the day.

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It was actually really nice to hike in the cool temperatures and to see some moisture falling.

 

The trail enters an area burned by the 2011 Dollar Lake Fire near a registration box for the Mt. Hood Wilderness after a half mile.

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The Vista Ridge Trail is probably best known for its displays of avalanche lilies in the burn area during July but we discovered that August provided an amazing display of its own.

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The amount of fireweed was simply amazing.

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With all the fires currently burning it was nice to be reminded that the forests will recover eventually.

With the misty conditions views were limited but Pinnacle Ridge was visible across the Clear Branch Valley and we spied a bit of Laurence Lake as well as Bald Butte further in the distance.

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After two and a half miles we arrived at the junction with the Eden Park Loop Trail.

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A few avalanche lilies were still blooming in this area.

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We turned down the Eden Park Trail which descended through more burned forest filled with more fireweed and some small meadows with other wildflowers.

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We also crossed several small wildflower lined streams flowing down toward Ladd Creek.

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Eight tenths of a mile from the Vista Ridge Trail junction we arrived at Ladd Creek itself.

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Just beyond Ladd Creek we arrived at Eden Park.

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Beyond Eden Park the trail began to climb on its way up to the Timberline Trail at Cairn Basin.

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We turned left on the Timberline Trail and took a short snack break in Carin Basin and visited the stone shelter.

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After leaving Cairn Basin we recrossed Ladd Creek.

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It was about a mile from this upper crossing to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail. There were lots of wildflowers along this stretch as well as some lingering snow.

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Wy’East Basin lay just beyond the junction with more flower lined streams.

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We continued on from Wy’East Basin heading toward Elk Cove. Despite not being able to see the mountain, just being on the Timberline Trail gave us that alpine feeling that only the mountains can.

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We had passed several rock fields where we had listened and looked for one of our favorite animals, the pika, but had not had any luck. As we began the descent to Elk Cove though we heard the distinctive “meep” of a pika. It’s a sound that always brings a smile to our faces. We had stopped along the trail for a moment to look around and just as we started to resume hiking we spotted one sitting on the rocks ahead.

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The descent to Elk Cove when hiking clockwise on the Timberline Trail is an extremely scenic section of trail when visibility is good. The clouds and mist took a bit away from the epic views but it was still an impressive sight.

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The further down into the cove we went the better the flower display became.

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We stopped at an empty campsite near a creek and took a seat while we took in the beauty of the surrounding area.

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We could occasionally see some blue sky to the east which gave us a just a bit of hope that maybe we’d get a view of the mountain after all.

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The blue sky looked to be just on the side of the mountain though and the clouds were continuing to blow in from the west.

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After a while the combination of our damp clothes and the cool breeze became a little chilly so we decided to head back. It appeared that we were out of luck on a mountain view this time but as we were climbing out of the cove the clouds began to break even more.

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We waited and watched as the sky cleared up just enough to reveal the mountain before swallowing it up once more.

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It had lasted less than a minute and then we were back in the cloudy mist but it was the icing on the cake for what had already been a great hike. We returned to the junction with the Vista Ridge Trail where we turned downhill, passing the Eden Park Trail junction in .3 miles and arriving back at our car in another two and a half miles. The total distance for the day was just over 11 miles with a little under 2000′ of elevation gain.

We were very glad we hadn’t skipped our weekly hike. Getting out on the trail was really just what we had needed. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Vista Ridge Trail

Mt. Rainier National Park – Northern Loop Day 3

Day 3 started with the sound of water dropping onto the rainfly for our tent. We guessed by the sound that the rain had finally relented and what we were hearing was the water falling from the surrounding trees. We had managed to stay relatively dry inside the tent save for a small amount of condensation that had built up during the night. I ventured out to use the toilet and retrieve our bear bag and discovered we had guessed right. We decided to have a bar for breakfast instead of trying to cook under the dripping trees and then began packing up. There was another couple at camp who had arrived after the rain had started. We learned that they had gotten pretty soaked and it sounded like it had been a pretty miserable night.

We got our first good look at Yellowstone Cliffs as we headed back toward the Northern Loop Trail.
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The clouds were breaking up and it looked like it might be a pretty nice day. The forecast had called for a slight chance of showers in the morning followed by a mostly sunny afternoon. We were treated to more great views as we passed through the meadows below the cliffs.
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As we neared the end of the meadows we noticed a doe and fawn staring down at us. A third deer briefly appeared further up the hillside before disappearing back into the trees.
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As we climbed higher Mt. Rainier began to peak out from behind Crescent Mountain. The summit of the mountain was a pristine white having been coated in a fresh layer of snow overnight.
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We had been climbing gradually toward Windy Gap where we planned on taking a .7 mile side trail to visit Natural Bridge, a rock arch high above Lakes Ethel & James. The scenery along this section of the trail was magnificent even without the flowers being in bloom.
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We took the trail toward Natural Bridge which wrapped around an unnamed butte before descending to a viewpoint of the arch. The view included both Lake James and Lake Ethel as well as the West Fork White River which we would be crossing later in the day.
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After returning to the junction at Windy Gap we began descending down the Northern Loop Trail to Van Horn Creek which feeds into Lake James. The alpine meadows gave way to a beautiful forest as we neared the lake.
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We headed for Lake James to cook our breakfast which had now become brunch.
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It was a little chilly at the lake but it was also very peaceful. The area is notorious for mosquitoes but we didn’t see any signs of them as we enjoyed our Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy.
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After breakfast we sallied forth dropping from the lake and passing beneath the fireweed covered Redstone Peak.
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We were in a lush forest with mushrooms and birds.
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We were heading for the crossing of the West Fork White River. The footbridge over the river had been washed out and we would be crossing on a log that was acting as the temporary bridge.
We had met a couple of ladies who were hiking the Northern Loop in the opposite direction and they told us they had chosen to scoot across the log instead of walking across it. That had been my plan as well having once done that to get across the Muddy Fork River on Mt. Hood. When we arrived at the log I briefly reconsidered and started to walk across but quickly reverted to the original plan as soon as I looked down at the muddy water.
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Heather scooted across after me and we were ready to continue. Looking back across the river we got a glimpse of the lowest portion of Van Horn Falls. Like Garda Falls on the first day the only decent view was from across the river. Looking at the falls on Google Earth it’s clear that there is much more to it than is visible from the trail but it was still a pretty waterfall.
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We met another pair of hikers shortly after crossing the river. They had come up the primitive West Fork Trail and asked us what animals we’d seen so far. We told them about the mountain goats and deer as well as the pikas, marmots, and chipmunks. The asked about any elk or bears and we said we hadn’t seen either of those yet. We took our leave and continued on passing the junction with the West Fork Trail.
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Not long after passing the West Fork Trail junction something off to my left caught my attention. I turned just in time to see a large black bear emerge from some huckleberry bushes and race off into the forest. He had only been about 20 yards away and when his paws hit the ground they made a loud thumping noise. He was only visible for a matter of seconds and Heather had missed seeing it. It was amazing how quickly something that big could disappear into the forest.

We had another big climb ahead of us to reach our next camp. Fire Creek Camp was located in a quiet valley part way along the trail up to Grand Park.
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We took the .4 mile trail down to the quiet camp which was the most private of all the camps we’d seen thus far. A small stream draining from Grand Park above supplied a water source. We chose site #2 partly because we had chosen site #2 at both of our previous camps as well but it was also the nicest of the spots here.
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We set up our tent and spread out anything that was still damp from the day before to dry.
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It was a chilly evening and we wound up using our rain gear as a windproof layer to keep us warm. It was certainly a more peaceful evening than the rain filled one the day before. It had been a great trip so far and we were eagerly anticipating what the final day would have in store for us as we turned in for the night. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157657420370715

Benson, Tenas, Hand, and Scott Lakes.

We capped off our Central Oregon vacation with a soggy loop past several lakes in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. We had started this hike in 2011 but had to turn back shortly after passing Benson Lake having lost the trail under snow. We started the loop at the Benson Lake Trailhead which is located just past Scott Lake off of Highway 242 along with my parents.
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The forest was full of bear grass stalks evidencing what looked to have been an impressive bloom earlier in the year.
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We reached Benson Lake in just under a mile and a half. It was a cloudy day but we could see Scott Mountain,one of our destinations, across the lake.
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From Benson Lake we passed several small meadows and ponds before reaching a sign pointing to the Tenas Lakes.
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The trail first passes the largest of the Tenas Lakes.
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Exploring beyond the first lake led us past several more smaller lakes, each with its own distinct features.
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Our next stop was the 6116′ summit of Scott Mountain. Another sign announced the .7 mile trail to the former lookout site.
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We began climbing up into the fog. The forest soon gave way to the mountains meadows on its red summit. We’d missed the majority of the flowers but there were a few lingering blooms providing a hint of what would be seen in the meadows near the former lookout site during the peak bloom.
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The view from the summit was an all too familiar one for us. 🙂
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After returning to the loop trail from the summit we continued through the Mt. Washington Wilderness toward Hand Lake. We were finding an increasing number of ripe blue & huckleberries and were doing our best to sample them all.
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We skipped the mushrooms though.
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The trail then entered burnt woods where fireweed was profuse.
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After passing a sign for the Bunchgrass Trail we skirted a lava flow where we saw many golden mantled squirrels who seemed to be fattening up in preparation of Winter.
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An interesting feature near Hand Lake is the 1871 Old McKenzie Wagon Road chipped out of the lava. It isn’t easy to spot but the level road was made by hand to connect the Willamette Valley to Central Oregon.
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At the end of the lava flow we came to Hand Lake.
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There wasn’t a lot of water in the lake this far into Summer but a lone duck seemed to be enjoying it and at least one small frog called the area home.
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From the lake we could see the Hand Lake Shelter, our next stop.
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It had been sprinkling off and on all day but really started to pick up after we left the shelter. The final 1.5 miles of the loop were nearly level passing through several meadows where mosses and aster added color to the ground.
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On a clear day the Three Sisters are visible from Scott Lake but we arrived amid a steady rain and low clouds. The lake was still pretty despite the lack of a mountain view.
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It was a vastly different feeling than we’d had just three days earlier when we were trying to cool off sitting next to a tarn beneath Broken Top. We all agreed that it was the first time it had felt like Fall was just around the corner. It was really nice to be joined by my parents on our final vacation hike even if we were all wet muddy messes at the end of it.

Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157647053544115/
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