Tag Archives: gentian

Labor Day Weekend – Mt. Adams Wilderness Days 2 & 3

We woke up after 6am on Sunday morning which counts as sleeping in for us. The forecast had called for smokey conditions all weekend which hadn’t materialized at all on Saturday but the sky was a little hazy now.
It certainly wasn’t bad and there was no fire smell in the air which was nice.

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Our mission was to find a water source as we had run low the day before and didn’t want to try and filter out of the nearby Cascade Creek which was too silty. We grabbed our packs and headed across Horseshoe Meadow to the Pacific Crest Trail. Our plan was to follow it north to the Killen Creek Trail and possibly into Killen Creek Meadows.

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The PCT climbed along a ridge at the edge of the meadow and we were able to spot our tent in the trees below.

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The trail climbed around the ridge end through the scars of the Cascade Creek Fire. The ground was covered with flowers that were well past bloom but they still provided a colorful display.

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Looking out to the SW we could see smoke in the valleys below a higher layer of clouds. Mt. St. Helens somehow seemed to be in a clear zone though.

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As we passed a large rocky area we heard the “meep” of a pika followed by several more. We stopped to see if we could spot one of our favorite alpine animals and sure enough one scurried out onto a nearby rock.

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After watching the little guy for a while we remembered our quest for water and continued on. The trail remained in the Cascade Creek Fire zone for nearly the entire 3.5 miles to Sheep Lake which was the first potential source of water we came too. The fire zone offered some nice views and interesting rock formations reminding us that as sad as it is too see the forest burn it is part of the natural cycle and can offer some different scenic qualities.

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IMG_7781Mt. St. Helens

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IMG_7784The bottom of Mt. Rainier

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IMG_7798Goat Rocks

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Sheep Lake was nice and was lined with berries which we happily ate as part of our breakfast but it was a little shallow along the edges for our pump filter.

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Riley Creek was near enough that we could hear it flowing so we decided to check it out to see if the water was clear enough to filter. Not only was the water clear but the creek was lovely and we found a large flat area atop some rocks where we could cook our breakfast.

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Heather filtered water while I prepared our Mountain House Spicy Southwest Breakfast Hash which is quickly becoming one of our favorite backpacking meals.

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After breakfast we continued north on the PCT into a green forest. More blueberries and huckleberries lined the trail and we joined the area wildlife in snacking on the juicy treats.

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Large clumps of gentians dotted the open ground in this area as well.

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Just under a quarter mile from Riley Creek we passed the Riley Camp Trail.

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The stretch of green forest lasted for about a mile before the PCT came to a lava flow near Mutton Creek.

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Mutton Creek was cloudy with silt but not the chocolate color of Cascade Creek. It looked more like someone had poured some milk into the creek. The trail followed the cascading creek for a bit before crossing it.

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The PCT then passed across another section of lava where we stopped to admire the craggy peaks lining the horizon.

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There was also a good view of Mt. Adams although the combination of the haze and angle of the Sun affected it.

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We passed through another meadow before reaching the Lewis River.

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It was hard to believe this was the same river that we’d hiked along when we visited Lower Lewis River Falls in May of 2016.

Lower Lewis River Falls

About a quarter mile from the Lewis River we passed the Divide Camp Trail.

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Just beyond the trail junction we passed over a section of the mountain where a washout or avalanche had wiped out a swath of forest at some point where small trees were now regrowing.

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Just beyond that was an even larger barren rocky area where we came to Adams Creek.

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This proved to be the trickiest crossing of the entire weekend. We chose a spot where it looked like we could rock hop to a small island where a log might get us to the other side relatively dry.

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It worked reasonably well and we sallied forth towards the Killen Creek Trail. IMG_7898

About a mile from Adams Creek we passed a shrinking pond.

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Another quarter mile brought us to the High Camp Trail which headed toward the mountain.

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Shortly beyond that junction we arrived at the Killen Creek Trail.

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Although we had toyed with the idea of continuing all the way to Killen Creek it was another .4 miles away and downhill. We had done 22.6 miles the day before and this day was already going to be over 17 miles so we decided to call it good. We figure we can go back someday and start on the Killen Creek Trail and go north on the PCT from the junction.

On the way back the haze began to clear and the passed far enough overhead to greatly improve the views of Mt. Adams.

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The massive Adams Glacier really caught our attention.

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While we were admiring the mountain, Heather spotted a face in the rocks.

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The view of Mt. Adams kept getting clearer and even the view of Mt. Rainier improved somewhat.

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One view that didn’t improve was to the SW where yet another smoke plume had arisen. This one we would learn the next day was the East Crater Fire in the Indian Heaven Wilderness.

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We stopped again at Riley Creek where we joined a number of PCT thru-hikers cooling off and collecting water. We refilled our packs as well as our 96oz canteen (which was not the most fun thing to haul the 4 miles back to camp).

It was just after 4:30 when we arrived back at Horseshoe Meadow. Mt. Adams appeared to be free of any smoke but just over it’s shoulder to the east the sky looked really smokey.

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We ate dinner then sat by our tent and watched as a few wispy clouds passed overhead.

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With all the fires around we couldn’t have asked for a better couple of days on the mountain. Those wonderful conditions didn’t make it into Labor Day though.

We woke up at 5:30am and despite it still being dark, we knew that some smoke had moved in based on the smell. When I got out of the tent and turned on my headlamp it illuminated the ash that was falling like a light snow. As the morning light made seeing a little easier we found that we couldn’t even see Mt. Adams.

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As the Sun rose higher we could at least make out the mountains outline through the smoke.

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We ate breakfast and packed up then headed south on the PCT.

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Overall it was a cool morning but occasional blasts of warmer air hit us. We had started hiking a little before 7am so that helped. We passed a number of thru-hikers on their way north, one of whom told us that the Indian Heaven Wilderness was closed due to a new fire (East Crater).

A red sun came up over Mt. Adams as we made our way back.

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The smoke finally lessened a bit when we had gotten back down into unburnt forest.

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Near the trailhead we spoke to another thru-hiker who had been evacuated from Cascade Locks due to the Eagle Creek Fire. It was from her that we learned a teenager illegally using fireworks had started the inferno and that at least 140 hikers had been stranded overnight, trapped between the Eagle Creek and Indian Creek Fires.

Given the information we decided to drive back to Salem around Mt. Hood via Highways 35 and 26 thinking that I84 might be closed by the time we were trying to get through. It’s been a tough year out west regarding wildfires. Even though they are a natural part of the forest cycle (unless some moron does something stupid) it’s hard when so many of our favorite places seem to be burning at the same time. We know they will not look like they once did anytime in our lifetimes, but they will recover and in the meantime we will watch as God’s creation heals. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Mt. Adams Wilderness Days 2 & 3

Mt. Rainier National Park – Northern Loop Day 1

At the beginning of the year Mt. Rainier National Park was near the top of our list of places we still needed to visit. On our initial hiking schedule I put down four days at Mt. Rainier and began researching possible hikes. The Northern Loop Trail looked to be the perfect choice coming in at close to 40 miles. We decided to submit a request for the necessary wilderness permits in hopes that we would be lucky enough to acquire them. In order to camp in the parks wilderness we needed to have permits and the number of permits are limited due to the limited number of designated camp sites available. The park began accepting permit applications on March 15th and ours was in the mail that day. All requests submitted between 3/15 and 3/31 were collected and on April 1st they began to process them. We found out on May 1st that our application had been accepted and our planned itinerary approved. We had requested Thursday 8/13/15 thru Sunday 8/17/15 with our camp sites being Mystic Camp, Yellowstone Cliffs Camp, and Fire Creek Camp.

We had been excited about the possibility of this trip even before finding out that we got our permits and that excitement only grew when we got the good news. As the date of our trip approached we kept a close eye on wildfire and weather information. Although it has been a bad year for fires none were affecting the park which was good news. The weather news was a little less exciting. The forecast called for a chance of showers or thunderstorms Thursday afternoon and evening and rain on Friday, possibly up to half an inch. There was also a slight chance of showers Saturday morning before becoming sunny for the rest of the weekend. We had our reservations though so we made sure we had plenty of waterproof gear before heading to the park.

The weather was beautiful when we arrived at the Sunrise Visitors Center on Thursday morning. Mt. Rainier was as massive as we’d been led to believe and we couldn’t wait to get started.
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We took the Sourdough Ridge Trail up toward the Wonderland Trail (the 93 mile trail that loops the entire mountain) marveling at the views along the way.
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In a typical year the flower displays would have been near their peak but just like the rest of the Pacific Northwest they had bloomed at least a month earlier than normal. It didn’t matter though because the scenery and views were spectacular and the few flowers that remained gave us an idea of what it might look like in full bloom.
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We met the Wonderland Trail near Frozen Lake. This lake acts as a domestic water supply and was roped off.
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Two other trails met at the junction, the Mt. Freemont Trail and the Burroughs Mountain Trail. Both of these looked interesting but would have to wait for another day.
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We took the Wonderland Trail which passed below Burroughs Mountain where we spotted over two dozen mountain goats lounging in the shade of the cliffs.
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We continued down to another junction, this one with the Northern Loop Trail. This would be our return route to complete the loop on Sunday.
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From the Wonderland Trail we had a good view of the climb that awaited us on that final day.
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The Wonderland Trail then climbed to a pass on a ridge below Skyscraper Mountain where we took our first snack break where we were joined by a marmot.
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From the pass the trail then headed downhill into a forest passing Granite Creek Camp.
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We were on our way down to the Winthrop Glacier and to a crossing of Winthrop Creek. The sky had become rather hazy by the time we made it down to the glacier making it difficult to see the mountain. The glacier was much larger than any we’d been around on other mountains in the Cascades.
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We passed under Garda Falls which was hidden from the trail, but after crossing Winthrop Creek on a foot bridge and climbing a bit we could look back and see the falls in the forest.
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We climbed out of the glacial outwash plain and back into the forest.
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Shortly after reentering the forest we arrived at a sign announcing Mystic Camp where we picked out a site and set up camp.
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The camp was below Old Desolate and near Mystic Lake. The rocks on Old Desolate were very interesting.
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After setting up camp we headed up the trail to Mystic Lake. It was a pretty alpine lake nestled between Mineral Mountain and Old Desolate. The lake shore was dotted with gentians.
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We decided to have our dinner at the lake but hadn’t brought it with us so Heather headed back to camp to get our stove and food. When she got back she told me she met a doe and her two fawns along the trail. After dinner we headed back to camp and discovered the deer were still in the small meadow where she had seen them earlier.
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Back at camp we found another deer. This one was a buck who was leisurely passing through camp eating as he went.
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The showers had never materialized as we turned in for the night. We did hear a couple of rumbles of thunder during the night but never saw any lightning and it never did rain. It had been a great start to the trip and we were looking for to the rest of it. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157657389155121

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The trail climbed fairly gently up the ridge passing a couple of open views of the mountain.
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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.
Paint
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Columbine
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Fireweed
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False Hellbore
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Western Pasque Flower (seed-head)
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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
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Aster or fleabane
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Spirea
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Gentians
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Monkeyflower
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Another branch of McGee Creek
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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.
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Dry pond
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Dry pond below the rocky outcrop and Mt. Hood beyond.
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The second pond still had a little water and a nice view of the top of Mt. Hood.
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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.
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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.
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Mt. Adams
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Mt. Rainier
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Mt. St. Helens
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We left the Timberline Trail at the sign for McNeil Point.
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The trail up to the shelter begins on a ridge next to silty Ladd Creek.
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Heather enjoying the day.
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The trail then crossed a rock field where there is normally also a snowfield. Not this year though.
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Once past the rock field the trail passed beneath hills that hid most the mountain. Here we began to encounter more flowers in bloom.
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There was also a lovely little creek lined with monkeyflowers.
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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.
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As we headed for the ridge Mt. Hood began to peek out from above it.
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Heather spotted an interesting looking ladybug along the way.
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We gained the ridge and could see our route laid out before us with a closer look at Mt. Hood being the reward.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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McNeil Point Shelter
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We were near what looked like the end of the climb.
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We were wrong and there was one more stretch of uphill ahead of us.
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To our left was Barrett Spur where we climbed to in August of 2013. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/08/15/barrett-spur-via-the-mazama-trail/
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To our right was Yocum Ridge which we visited later that same year. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/yocum-ridge/
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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.
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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.
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We took a couple of pictures then pulled out some potato chips for a snack.
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There had been two small groups ahead of us but they had since headed back down so we had the view almost to ourselves.
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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
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Cats ear lily
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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We paid a quick visit to the shelter then continued to make our way back down.
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A few small clouds had formed by the time we arrived back at the ponds.
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And the gentians had opened up some in the sunlight.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157655660865389

South Sister Loop – Day 3

After not being able to fall asleep in the wake of an amazing second day the third day of our backpacking loop started way to early. I woke up just after 5am needing to empty my bladder. Looking out our tent to the East I could see an orange glow through the trees indicating that the Sun was coming, but not for awhile. I threw my headlamp on, grabbed my camera hoping to get a shot of the horizon, and started to walk toward the edge of the plateau that Demaris Lake sits on. I was scanning the forest with my light when I noticed a pair of glowing eyes about 50yds to the left of our tent. They were fairly low to the ground and I couldn’t tell what it was. Since I didn’t know what kind of animal was staring at me I wasn’t sure if I should get big or slowly back away. Not being fully awake my solution was to take a picture using the flash to see if I could figure out what it was. That may not have been the best idea, but when the flash went off I could see that it was a deer that was bedded down.
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She got up after I took the picture and began walking along the ridge in front of me so I stopped heading that way and thought I would loop around behind to get my horizon picture. Apparently she didn’t like that because when I looked back in the direction she had been headed she had turned around and was now walking toward me with her head down.
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She stopped when she realized I’d spotted her and I backtracked down to the lake shore and tried taking a wider loop around a rocky outcropping to get my picture. I got to good viewpoint and after scanning for the deer I set about trying to get a decent picture.
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After taking a few pictures I suddenly had a strange feeling. Glancing to my right there was that crazy deer again staring at me with those glowing eyes. I headed back down to the lake and hurried back to the tent site to grab my poles and wake Heather up thinking that maybe the presence of a second person would deter the stalker deer. It must have because we didn’t see her again and were able to watch the sunrise light up the mountains and trees above the lake.
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After a deer free breakfast we returned to the Camp Lake Trail at the North Fork Wychus Creek. A nice little waterfall lay just downstream from the creek crossing.
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Soon we entered the area burned during the 2012 Pole Creek Fire.
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The forest is only starting to recover from the fire so there wasn’t much to see as we made our way to the Green Lakes Trail and Soda Creek.
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We turned right on the Green Lakes Trail and headed south toward Park Meadow. The first section of trail remained in the burn area but we were now headed back toward the mountains so we at least had a view.
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After recrossing the North Fork Wychus Creek and then crossing the South Fork Wychus Creek the trail passed between a pair of ponds at the edge of the burn. The large pond on the left was empty while the much smaller pond on the right was filled with ducks.
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After leaving the burn area our next marker was the West Fork Park Creek in Red Meadow.
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There weren’t many flowers in the meadow but a hawk provided some entertainment as it watched us from a nearby tree.
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From there it was just under a mile to our next trail junction located in Park Meadow.
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After taking a quick look at Park Creek we continued on the Green Lakes Trail passing through Park Meadow. The meadow was quite large with a good view of both Broken Top and the South Sister. Although it was fairly dry many gentian flowers dotted the ground along with the occasional aster.
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We were looking for a side trail about a mile from Park Meadow that would take us to Golden Lake. There was no sign marking the .7 mile trail to the lake but as we made our way toward the lake we did see signs announcing the areas restrictions.
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It was easy to see why this was a popular spot.
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We hiked around to the far end of the lake and decided to follow the inlet creek up looking for a place to set up our tent far enough from the lake to fit the 250′ restriction. We knew that there were a pair of tarns about a mile up from Golden Lake which we had originally planned on visiting after we had found our camp site and dropped off our gear. We weren’t having much luck finding a site, but the scenery was once again spectacular. Wildflowers lined the creek and the water was as clear as glass. We were headed straight at Broken Top and the South Sister loomed across the creek to our right.
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We eventually reached the beginning of the creek as it flowed out from the bottom of a rocky hillside.
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We began climbing the hill expecting to find the first tarn at the top.
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We were not disappointed.
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The water in the tarn was crystal clear and the views extended to Mt. Jefferson to the North.
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A path led up another hill to the second tarn. It was quite a bit smaller and there was a hiker with a dog splashing around in it so we headed back down to the first tarn and went about setting up camp. We had found our spot for the night.
Second tarn
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South Sister over the first tarn
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Our campsite back in the trees on the far side of the tarn.
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We had views all around from the site.
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The nice part was we had arrived just after 1pm so we had plenty of time to soak our feet (the water was way too cold for anything else) and watch the wildlife that would occasionally stop by the tarn.
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We decided to try and turn in early (or at least take a nap) since we didn’t get much sleep the night before so we laid down in the tent around 6pm. Heather fell asleep but I wasn’t having any luck so I got back up shortly after 7pm and took a few more pictures. It had been hazy to north all weekend but I could now make out Mt. Hood in that direction, and rays of sunlight shot through the gap between the South and Middle Sister.
The Three Sisters, Three Fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson, and Mt. Hood at 7:04pm
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Broken Top at 7:07pm
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I went back to the tent and laid back down after taking the picture of Broken Top hoping to finally get some sleep. About 20 minutes later I smelled smoke. Thinking it was a campfire I lay there for a minute wondering if someone wasn’t able to follow the restriction on campfires. The smell kept getting strong so I sat up and looked around. Smoke was filling the basin below Broken Top and when I turned around I could see a line of smoke passing between the Sisters. The whole valley below us was full of smoke and it looked like it was rising up from somewhere on the other side of the South Sister.
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I woke Heather up and we began discussing what to do. Another hiker came up to the tarn and she was wondering what was going on as well. She had a satellite phone and had managed to talk to a friend in Bend but they didn’t have any knowledge of a fire near the Sisters. There were some fires near Oakridge, OR 40 miles to the South but it didn’t seem possible that this smoke was coming from there. Looking at the smoke column we weren’t sure if we would be able to hike out via Green Lakes since it appeared to be rising from somewhere in that direction so we considered our Plan B evacuation route back through Park Meadow to the Three Creeks Campground. We were also debating on if we should try and stick it out through the night of if we should just pack up and try and get out before it got any worse. We quickly agreed that neither of us would be able to get any sleep under these conditions and if the smoke got any worse it would certainly be unhealthy even if we did manage to fall asleep.

We loaded everything up grabbed our headlamps and started back down toward Golden Lake just after 8:15pm. We were watching the smoke column still unable to decide exactly where it was emanating from when arrived back at Golden Lake. No one had any new news at the lake so we decided to attempt to hike out as originally planned past the Green Lakes as it looked like the smoke was coming from the far side of the South Sister.

This was our first experience with night hiking so we didn’t know exactly what to expect. Our adrenaline was pumping as we began climbing the Green Lakes Trail to its high point above the Green Lakes. To our surprise and relief the smoke lessened as we went. By the time we arrived at the Green Lakes area the sky was full of stars and the smell of smoke had all but vanished.
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I managed one picture of the elusive Green Lakes having once again missed seeing them in the light of day.
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We were now committed to leaving though so we kept hiking. It turned out to be quite a bit of fun. We missed out on seeing a lot but the sky was beautiful and we spotted some things we would not have seen during the day like toads and the glowing eyes of many deer.
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We were fortunate that the Green Lakes Trail is well used and easy to follow. By 11:40pm we had reached the trailhead and our waiting car. There was no sign of fire anywhere around and as it turned out the smoke had come from the Deception Creek Complex of fires near Oakridge. The wind had apparently shifted just right flooding the area with smoke. Although it would have been nice to have spent the night by the tarn and been able to wake up to that view we felt like we made the right choice. Experiencing our first night hike was something to remember and it brought our day 3 total to a nice round 21 miles. It truly was a trip to remember.

Happy (and smoke free) Trails!

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Jefferson Park via South Breitenbush Trail

Our hike this week brought us back to what is my personal favorite destination – Jefferson Park. I can’t really say what it is about the area that makes it my favorite, but I think it is a case where the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. Jefferson Park is home to several lakes, wildflower meadows, berry patches, snow melt ponds, creeks, and the beginnings of the South Fork Breitenbush River. Oh yeah, the back drop to all of this is Mt. Jefferson, Oregon’s 2nd tallest peak at 10,497′. Our first visit came late in September 2011 when we took the Whitewater Trail and entered the park from the south. In October 2012 we took the Pacific Crest Trail from the north up Park Ridge and down into Jefferson Park. This year we would be coming from the west on the South Breitenbush Trail.

This wasn’t our first time on the South Breitenbush Trail. Earlier this year we had hiked a lower portion of the trail along the South Breitenbush Gorge. https://wanderingyuncks.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/south-breitenbush-gorge-trail/ For this hike we drove past that portion of trail to the third trail head 5 miles up road 4685. We set off from the large parking area just as the Sun was beginning to shine on the top of the ridge across the South Fork Breitenbush River’s valley. The forest was dense and quite dark as the Sun was hidden behind the ridge we were climbing. The trail climbed steadily far enough from the river to hide it’s existence. The trees also hid Mt. Jefferson as we crossed several small streams before the forest began thinning as it became drier. I noticed what appeared to be a brushy clearing that might offer a view so I started looking for a side trail. Sure enough I spotted a pair of rocks oddly placed on a small log which signaled a faint path out through the manzanita. A short distance later Mt. Jefferson came into view giving us our first good view of the mountain.077

Onward and upward we trudged as the forest became sparser offering more frequent views of the mountain. We started noticing more and more ripe huckleberries as we entered the areas that got more sunlight and made sure we took a good sampling. The trail finally flattened out on a plateau where we encountered our first snow melt pond.
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It seemed to belong in Jefferson Park which made us feel like we must be close which turned out to not exactly be the case. We passed through heather meadows that must have been quite a display when they were in bloom and also found some nice patches of wild blueberry bushes where the ripe berries in the sun smelled just like a freshly baked pie. We finally switchbacked down along the edge of a rock slide and followed a flower lined creek toward the South Fork Breitenbush River.

I had begun to think that we might have missed out on most of the wildflowers despite the fact we had come much earlier than in previous years. As usual I was worrying for nothing. Beginning with the creek the number of flowers began to increase and by the time we had traveled a short distance along the river we found the bank was ablaze in yellow and orange.
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On the other side of the trail was a field of purple and white below the rock summit of Park Butte.
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We had managed to come at a great time when many of the earlier flowers were still in bloom, but there were also later flowers such as gentians on display. To top it off the mosquitoes were no longer a nuisance.

We crossed the river and climbed a small ridge to the junction with the Pacific Crest Trail and turned north (left) toward Russell Lake. The outlet of Russell Lake is one of the sources of the river and its location between Park Butte and Mt. Jefferson makes it an ideal lunch spot. We ate our lunch (and a few more berries) while we watched a plethora of fish jumping in the lake. It seemed like there was one jumping everywhere you looked, and I even managed to get a picture of one.
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After lunch we headed south along the PCT through the meadows of Jefferson Park eventually taking one of the many side trails toward the other lakes of the park. We started at Scout Lake and worked our way around the shore so we were across from Mt. Jefferson.
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We then headed west over a small hill and down to blue Bays Lake with its rocky peninsulas.

Bays Lake
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From Bays Lake we made our way north past small Rock Lake to Park Lake and another great view.

Park Lake
Park Lake

A trail following the outlet of Park Lake led us back to the South Breitenbush Trail near the river crossing.

The wildflowers were even more impressive on the way out as the Sun was now overhead and many of the flowers such as the gentians were opening.

Gentians
Gentians

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Butterflies had also come out to play.
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After having taken all three of the main approaches to Jefferson Park my favorite would be coming in from the north on the PCT over Park Ridge. The view from the ridge is second to none, but the awful road to the trail head also has few rivals. The Whitewater trail was the easiest and offered nice views, but the entrance to Jefferson Park is not as impressive as the others. The South Breitenbush Trail was the longest (6.2miles one way compared to 5.6 & 5.1 respectively) and gained the most elevation but it offered a great variety of scenery and is the least visited of the trails. In reality you can’t go wrong by picking any of these trails as Jefferson Park is well worth the trip. Happy Trails.

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