Tag Archives: Mt. St. Helens

Falls Creek Falls and Indian Racetrack

One week after spending a day hiking in California at the Lava Beds National Monument (post) we visited our neighbor to the north, Washington. On our itinerary for the day were a pair of hikes north of Carson, WA. We started with a visit to Falls Creek Falls.

We parked at the trailhead at the end of Forest Road 57 where only one other car occupied the large parking area at 7:15am. The dim morning light coupled with some low clouds made it hard to capture the fall colors with the camera but our eyes had no problems appreciating them as we set off on the trail.
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We quickly passed a trail on the left which would be part of the loop we were planning on doing here and stayed straight toward the falls.
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At the .4 mile mark we arrived at a short suspension bridge over Falls Creek.
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Beyond the bridge the trail climbed gradually for a mile to a junction. Along the way there were several views of the creek.
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At the junction we stayed right and continued to gradually climb for another .3 miles to three tiered Falls Creek Falls. The first views are of the upper and middle tiers through some trees.
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The lower tier comes into view near the end of the trail at which point most of the upper tier is lost due to the angle.
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We spent a few chilly minutes admiring the falls before heading back to the junction.
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Here we veered uphill to the right climbing fairly steeply for about two tenths of a mile to the Falls Creek Trail.
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Before continuing on the loop we turned right on the Falls Creek Trail to visit a viewpoint or two above the falls. After .6 miles on this fairly level trail we spotted a side trail heading out to the first viewpoint. We started to head out this spur but then noticed a tent set up there (we found the owners of the other car) so we continued another quarter mile to the second viewpoint.
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The view from the top was just out over the valley, but a steep scramble trail led down to the top of the falls from here. We checked to see if the ground seemed muddy or slick, but it turned out to be in good shape so we made our way down to the creek just above the falls.
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From the viewpoint we returned to the loop and continued down the Falls Creek Trail 1.7 miles to another bridge over Falls Creek which we hadn’t seen since the viewpoint. Despite the creek not being visible from the trail the scenery was not lacking due to the surrounding forest and fall colors.
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At the far side of the bridge we turned left for a little over half a mile completing the loop and returning to our car, and a much fuller parking lot.
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After the 6.3 mile hike here we were ready for the second hike of the day to the Indian Heaven Wilderness and Red Mountain. We drove back toward Carson and eventually (after missing the turn the first time) turned east on Warren Gap Road (Road 405) at a pointer for the Panther Creek Campground. We followed this road for a little under two miles to Forest Road 65 where we turned left for 8 miles, passing the parking area for Panther Creek Falls (post) along the way, to a junction with FR 60. We turned right here and followed this road for two miles to the Pacific Crest Trail and a small campground.
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We followed the PCT north climbing gradually through the forest which looked quite different from the forest along Falls Creek just a few miles away.
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A little over 1.75 miles from the trailhead we passed one of the small Sheep Lakes.
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A quarter mile later we entered the Indian Heaven Wilderness.
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Although there wasn’t as much fall color along this trail as there had been along the trails at Fall Creek there was some and there were also some interesting mushrooms to be seen.
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IMG_4469This may named be Green Lake

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As we hiked through a meadow we spotted the lookout tower on Red Mountain to the SW which was to be one of our stops on the hike.
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We turned left off of the PCT 1.2 miles after entering the wilderness at a sign for Indian Racetrack.
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This trail led a half mile through the forest to the large meadows at Indian Racetrack where up until 1928 tribes indeed raced horses.
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We turned left in the middle of the meadows toward a trail sign for the Indian Racetrack Trail.
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This trail climbed for .8 miles, steeply at times, to a road on the shoulder of Red Mountain. An opening just above a saddle along the way provided a nice view of Mt. Adams to the NE.
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We followed the road uphill for .3 miles to the lookout gaining views of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along the way.
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IMG_4542Lemei Rock and Mt. Adams

Near the lookout Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson could be seen to the south in Oregon.
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We took a nice long break at the summit gazing at Washington’s trio of volcanoes and talking with a fellow hiker from Vancouver who had tried to reach the lookout earlier in the year but had been turned back by snow.
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From the lookout we headed back down the road and followed it all the way back down to FR 60 a total of 3.4 miles from the tower.
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We were a half mile from the Pacfic Crest Trail so we road walked, uphill, back to our car. In hindsight it might have been nicer to do the loop in reverse in order to start with the road walks and finish the hike with a gradual descent. Either way it was a great hike, but we had been expecting it to be a 7.5 mile loop based on our guidebook, but our GPS (and our legs) put it at 9.2 miles. Happy Trails!

Flickr: Falls Creek Falls and Indian Racetrack

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Throwback Thursday – Odds and Ends

With this Throwback Thursday post we will have covered all the trails that we hiked prior to starting this blog and have not been part of a subsequent hike that was featured here. We are combining several hikes in one for a couple of reasons. The remaining hikes were all relatively short, some we have few if any pictures, and one was done on the same day that we did another hike that we did again after we started the blog.

Many of our earliest hikes were centered around Bend, OR and were part of vacations prior to 2010 when we first started to be serious about hiking. These were hikes of opportunity more than conscious efforts to go on a hike.

One such was the 3 mile loop around Suttle Lake. We were staying at one of the cabins at the Suttle Lake Resort and decided to take the trail around the lake. The level hike offered views of the lake and of bald eagles and osprey as they soared over the lake watching for fish. On that hike we didn’t even carry a camera.

Another camera-less but worthwhile hike was the Lava River Cave. This mile long lava tube south of Bend is a great stop for kids and adults and can easily be combined with a visit to nearby Lava Lands or the High Desert Museum.

In 2007, while in Bend on vacation in July, we hiked up Pilot Butte. A mile long trail in the middle of town leads up to the top of the 4148′ summit which offers view on a clear day north to Mt. Adams in Washington.
Mountain locator on Pilot Butte

It was a bit hazy during this visit but the snowy peaks of the Cascades from Mt. Bachelor to the Three Sisters were still visible.
Mt. Bachelor, Tumalo Mt., Ball Butte, Broken Top, and the Three Sisters

On that same trip we took a stroll along the Deschutes River Trail from the Mt. Bachelor Village upriver to a footbridge and returned on a loop via Reed Market Road.
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Geese on the Deschutes River

Scarlet gilia

Deer along the Deschutes River Trail in Bend, OR

Deschutes River

Grand Collomia

The hikes weren’t all in Central Oregon. On 7/27/2009 we completed the 1.8 mile round trip to Henline Falls from the Henline Falls Trailhead. The trail is approximately 45 minutes east of Salem and features an old mine shaft near the waterfall.
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Abandoned mine shaft

Abandonded mine shaft

We also started up the nearby Henline Mountain Trail (trailhead) that day but were not in decent enough shape to make it very far.

The final short hike along Lava Canyon near Mt. St. Helens was done after our first hike to Ape Canyon on 9/17/2012. We went back to Ape Canyon in 2015 (post) but that time we did Ape Cave for the other hike.

After finishing our Ape Canyon hike in 2012 we walked from the Ape Canyon Trailhead .25 miles to the Lava Canyon Trailhead.
Trail map near Lava Canyon

A .4 mile trail leads down to the start of a short half mile loop.
Lava Canyon Trail sign

We stayed left at the start of the loop staying on the west side of the Muddy River. A footbridge led across the river above Lava Canyon Falls which was below the trail but mostly obscured.
Lava Canyon Trail sign at the start of the loop

Lava Canyon Falls

Just .2 miles from the first bridge the loop crosses the river on a suspension bridge.
Suspension Bridge over Lava Canyon

Suspension Bridge over Lava Canyon

Upstream from the suspension bridge the Muddy River careens down Triple Falls.
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A .3 mile trail returns to the footbridge along the river along the eastern bank.
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Muddy River

Upper Lava Canyon Falls

Henline Falls, Henline Mountain, and Lava Canyon are all in our future plans and reliving these and all our other Throwback Thursday hikes has been a lot of fun. Even though the information is dated hopefully they have provided some additional ideas for places to visit here in the Pacific Northwest. As always check with the managing agencies for current trail conditions before heading out. Happy Trails!

Mount Margaret Backcountry – Obscurity Lake to South Coldwater Trailhead

Waking up to a third tent at Obscurity Camp wasn’t our only surprise in the morning. I awoke at 4:30am to find nearly clear skies above the lake save for one small finger of cloud creeping over the ridge behind Obscurity Lake. We were getting an extra early start due to the forecast of possible  Thunderstorms after 11am.  The clear sky was encouraging, but it wasn’t long before clouds began creeping into the basin from all sides.
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By the time we were on our way we were hiking through fog.
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It was a fairly steep climb out of the Obscurity Lake Basin but as we neared the saddle between Obscurity and Panhandle Lakes beautiful blue skies appeared through the fog giving us some hope for views.
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There were some views if we looked up but when we crested the saddle it was evident that the view of Panhandle Lake would not be clear.
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Down we went back into even thicker fog. The trail crossed a couple of nice streams with marsh marigolds as it wound around the lake.
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As we neared the lake we spotted a mountain goat lounging just above the trail.
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It sized us up and kept a close eye on us as we passed by.
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We decided not to go down to the lake figuring the view couldn’t be much better than what we had along the trail.
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We continued on toward Shovel Lake. Once again the trail climbed out of a basin but instead of dropping back down toward Shovel Lake the trail passed above it along a ridge. On the far side of the lake was Mt. Whittier making this one of the most dramatic lakes in the backcountry but we never saw it.
The thickest layer of clouds lay right over Shovel Lake, but as we climbed the ridge we eventually rose above the clouds.
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We were pretty excited when we realized we could see the top of Mt. Rainier in the distance.
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The trail to Shovel Lake was near the top of the ridge which meant we would have had to descend a half mile back into the clouds to visit this lake. Once again we passed figuring it left us one more thing to come back for.
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From the Shovel Lake Trail junction though we had a great view of Mt. Adams, which appeared to be wrestling with the clouds.
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The trail continued up the ridge to a saddle where it was joined by the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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From this saddle we then began our descent toward Coldwater Lake. First up was Snow Lake.
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We had finally found a lake without clouds and as an added bonus we had a great view beyond to Coldwater Peak.
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The trail swung out around the lake and as it did so we gained a little glimpse of Mt. St. Helens as well.
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This time the trail went right by Snow Lake giving us an up close look.
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The other nice thing about Snow Lake was the climb out of the basin was short and not steep. We quickly crested the saddle above the lake and began to drop into another mass of clouds.
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From Snow Lake it was 3.4 miles to the Coldwater Trail and a footbridge over Coldwater Creek. We were passing through the cloud layer for the first part of this section so we couldn’t see much. The trail itself was brushy with thimbleberry bushes and vine maples.
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The tread was also narrow and washed out in spots but passable.
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We eventually got under the clouds and could see Coldwater Creek below us.
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We were also seeing more wildflowers again and finding ripe berries, including our first thimbleberries of the year.
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Trailing blackberry
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Thimbleberry
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Red huckleberry
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We passed a couple of small waterfalls along side streams, one on either side of the valley.
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The trail then passed above what appeared to be a nice fall along Coldwater Creek but didn’t provide much of a view.
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Just after passing the waterfall the trail entered a forested area.
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Hedgenettle
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From there to the Coldwater Trail junction the trial alternated between small meadows and woods with occasional views back to Coldwater Creek.
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Another trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was working on the Coldwater Trail on the far side of the footbridge when we arrived there. We stopped on some rocks above the bridge for a snack break and watched them as they worked.
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We were now on familiar trail, at least in theory. When we had hiked the loop around Coldwater Lake in May 2014 much of the vegetation was only beginning to produce leaves.
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This time the trail was crowded with plants.
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The wildflowers were out in force as we drew nearer to Tractor Junction.
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A male grouse flew out of one of the meadows and landed in a nearby tree. It was the first one we’d seen in full display and was quite colorful.
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The views were much better than they had been the day before at Tractor Junction and along the 3.2 miles from there back to the trailhead. Coldwater Lake was clearly visible and Mt. St. Helens even made an appearance.
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For the second day in a row we’d escaped without dealing with any rain showers and the thunderstorms had not materialized before we’d made it back to the car. Despite the sometimes cloudy conditions it had turned out to be a really nice trip. The views we did miss out on can now be our excuse for return trip sometime in the future. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157670492933452

Mount Margaret Backcountry – South Coldwater Trailhead to Obscurity Lake

The only backpacking trip that we had planned for this year which required a permit was an overnight stay in the Mount Margaret Backcountry near Mt. St. Helens. The area is part of the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, displaying the effects of the 1980 eruption. The lateral blast from the eruption shattered trees toppling thousands of acres of forest.

Camping is limited to designated sites at eight backcountry camps where the maximum group size for camping is four. Pets and pack stock are prohibited in the Mount Margaret Backcountry and fires are not allowed. We made our reservation for Obscurity Camp on March 19th, the day the permits became available.

One drawback of a permit system is not having any idea what the weather is going to be like on the days you reserve. We were looking at the chance of showers and maybe even a thunderstorm as we were hiking out, but we liked our odds and we had spent a whole $6.00 on the permit so we decided to give it a go. It was a wet drive to the South Coldwater Trailhead which is located along the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504).
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Starting at Norway Pass would have made it a shorter hike but where is the fun in that? It also would have been a longer drive. Our plan was a lollipop route using the South Coldwater Trail 230A, Coldwater Trail 230, Boundary Trail 1, and Lakes Trail 211. We had been on some of the trails in 2013 during a May hike around Coldwater Lake, but that hike had been early enough in the season that there had been very little vegetation and almost no flowers. It was evident from the flowers at the trailhead that we’d be seeing different sights this time around.
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We were under the clouds as we set off on the trail which passed through a short section of woods before emerging into wildflower filled meadows.
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Although the clouds limited the view we were able to see back down to the South Coldwater Creek Valley where we spotted several elk.
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The trail then crossed over the ridge we were climbing providing views of Coldwater Lake.
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The wildflowers were thick along the trail, but we were starting to enter the cloud bank and quickly losing our visibility.
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The trail continued to climb along the ridge passing a couple of pieces of old machinery that is left over from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
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We were now in the midst (or mist) of the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining and despite the low visibility there were still plenty of flowers along the trail to see and there were a couple of snowshoe hares out having breakfast.
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The hares weren’t the only ones enjoying some snacks. A variety of ripe berries offered us a nice selection of treats.
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After 3.2 miles we arrived at Tractor Junction. Named for another piece of nearby equipment, this junction marks the end of the South Coldwater Trail at it’s intersection with the Coldwater Trail.
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We turned right at the junction and headed toward the Boundary Trail which was just over 2 miles away. After .2 miles we passed Ridge Camp, one of the designated camps in the area.
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The wildflowers were once again impressive along this trail, but the visibility was even worse. We focused on finding as many different flowers as we could.
Tiger lilies
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Lupine, paintbrush and yellow wildflowers
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Large patch of paintbrush
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Arnica
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Bugbane
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Corydalis
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Columbine
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Scouler’s bluebell
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An aster or fleabane
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Pussypaws
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Mock orange
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Bistort
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Another type of aster or fleabane
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Violets
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Orange agoseris
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Spirea
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Cat’s ear lily
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Avalanche lily
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We were pleasantly surprised when we arrived at the junction with the Boundary Trail overlooking St. Helens Lake. We had suddenly found a little blue sky and some better visibility.
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Coldwater Peak was to our left and seemed to be acting as a cloud break.
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While we were watching the clouds swirl around the back side of Coldwater Peak we noticed a mountain goat on the cliffs below the summit.
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We took a nice long break at the junction watching the mountain goat and the ever changing clouds. When we finally set off again we passed by Coldwater Peak in sunlight.
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We had some great views of St. Helens Lake below us as we passed the spur trail to Coldwater Peak after .4 miles.
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The trail the continued around the lake with views opening up to Spirit Lake below St. Helens Lake.
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For the next 3 plus miles the clouds came and went as the drifted over the ridge down toward Spirit Lake.
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There was more snow along this section of trail and we started seeing more flowers that bloom soon after snow melt.
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Cinquefoil
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Cusick’s speedwell
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White heather
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Avalanche lilies
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Cat’s ear lily
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We crossed our first snowfield near The Dome, which was mostly hidden by the clouds.
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It was a bit of a shame that we couldn’t see more of the surrounding area because the peaks and cliffs we could see where really neat.
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The view downhill was a little better and we got a decent look at the outlet of St. Helens Lake, a log jam on Spirit Lake, and some elk in the valley.
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We had skipped the .6 mile trail up to the summit of Coldwater Peak not wanting to make that climb with our full packs on a day when the visibility wasn’t great, but when we reached the shorter spur trail to the summit of Mt. Margaret we decided to head up. Unlike Coldwater Peak we had not been up this trail before so even if we didn’t have a view we couldn’t pass it up. The view from Mt. Margaret turned out to not be too bad. We could see Spirit Lake fairly well and the Boundary Trail below the peak. Other nearby peaks occasionally emerged from the clouds.
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We could see some spots where mountain goats had been on a nearby ledge but no goats, just a swallowtail butterfly.
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We took a nice long break and had some lunch on Mt. Margaret. As we were preparing to start hiking again we could hear people coming up the Boundary Trail, lots of people. Heather counted nearly 30 folks emerging from the trees below. We made it back to the junction with the Boundary Trail just as the first of these other hikers were arriving. The majority of them turned out to be members of the Mazamas, a nonprofit Mountaineering Education Organization based in Portland, Oregon.

After passing through the Mazamas we crossed another nice snowfield and reached a junction with the Whittier Ridge Trail.
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The Whittier Ridge Trail was not on our to-do list on this hike. The trail is narrow and in places along exposed cliffs where the rocks had to be blasted to create a trail at all. Recent reports from members of the Oregon Hikers forum reported some snow still along the trail as well and with little visibility it wasn’t even tempting. We continued on the Boundary Trail getting our first view of some the lakes in the Mt. Margaret Backcountry.
Boot and Obscurity Lakes
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We had been gradually descending since Mt. Margaret and the visibility was getting better the lower we got.
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Along the way we spotted another mountain goat not far above the trail.
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As we got closer it crossed the trail and disappeared over the hillside leaving us with just it’s smell. (And boy did it smell)

We had been working our way around Spirit Lake and were now just to the NE of it. Mt. St. Helens lay directly behind the lake but only the lowest portions were visible. What we could see was Windy Ridge on the Mountain’s flank.
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Two miles from the Whittier Ridge Trail we arrived at the junction with the Lakes Trail at Bear Pass.
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The Lakes Trail descended from Bear Pass toward Grizzly Lake.
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A trail crew from the Washington Trails Association was busy brushing out the trail and restoring the tread along this section. They were doing some impressive work and we thanked them as we passed by.

Between Grizzly Lake and our final destination at Obscurity Lake were more wildflowers including a few we hadn’t seen yet that day.
Partridge foot and paintbrush
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Penstemon and candyflower
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Pink monkeyflower
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Blue-bells of Scotland
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Fireweed
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Bleeding heart
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As we approached Obscurity Lake a waterfall was visible along the outlet creek of the lake.
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We finally arrived at Obscurity Lake after almost 16 miles of hiking.
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We thought the hard part was over but then we went in search of the designated camp site. We found one tent pad already occupied and began looking for a second one. When I had made the reservation on the Recreation.gov website there had been 2 available permits for up to 4 people. There were several areas where tents had obviously been placed in the past but we couldn’t find any other tent pad or post marking another designated site. The hikers from the other tent said they had not been able to find a second one either so we picked what seemed like the most likely spot where there was no vegetation to trample and set up the tent.
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We hoped that we had picked the right spot and figured if we hadn’t and a ranger came along we’d just ask them where the other designated site was and move there if we had chosen poorly. Oddly enough a third tent had appeared when we awoke the next morning. I don’t know if they were possibly with the Forest Service, but if they weren’t someone was not where they should have been.

Regardless of the confusion over the camp sites the day had been pretty spectacular. The showers had never materialized and between the wildflowers, wildlife, and scattered views we did get we’d been totally entertained. The clouds just made us more eager to come back again someday in the future so we could see what we missed this time around. Happy Trails!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/albums/72157668318616563

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.
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A short paved trail leads to an kiosk with signboards and the lower cave entrance.
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An above ground trail leads past the lower entrance to an upper entrance (or exit).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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A third of a mile from the upper entrance the trail past under a skylight where green ferns and mosses grew on the rocks.
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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.
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It was fairly slow going but we eventually made it to the base of the staircase leading down from the lower entrance.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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We were on high alert as we started the trail due to warnings about local wildlife.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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The trail ends after 4.5 miles at the Loowit Trail which circles the entire mountain.
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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.
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Flowers are sparse but some still manage to bloom in what looks like the most improbably conditions.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Spring fed stream

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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.
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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!

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157655789278375

Mt. St. Helens Rim

We kicked off our September hiking with the steep rocky climb to the rim of Mt. St. Helens. After missing out on climbing permits last year (The passes are limited to 100 per day from April 1st through October.) we had scooped up this years permits as soon as they went on sale in February. We were fortunate to have wound up picking a day with a forecast for clear skies and mild temperatures.

After picking up our permits and signing the climbers register at the Lone Fir Resort in Cougar, WA we drove up to the Climbers Bivouac and got ready to climb. The first 2 miles of trail climbed gradually through a forest. There were just a few flowers and a couple of berries left here and there. We had blue skies above us but the sky was hazy to the East and South hiding Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams from view.
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At the 2 mile mark we crossed over the Loowit Trail and continued up the mountain.
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Going up

The trail quickly emerged from the trees and headed for the lava flow on Monitor Ridge.
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Posts indicated the general path to follow up the lava, but it was nearly impossible to tell where the optimal route was. It seemed like no matter where we were a better looking route was just to the left or right.
Following the posts up Monitor Ridge
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We picked our way up and over the rocks as best as we could passing the first monitor (yes there are actually monitors on monitor ridge) and gaining ever better views of Goat Mountain just to the SE of Mt. St. Helens.
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Just under 2 miles from the Loowit Trail we found the second monitor. Used for monitoring any swelling of the mountain we used it as proof that we were actually getting somewhere.
The 2nd of the two monitors
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From the second monitor there was one final pile of lava rocks before a final stretch of loose rock and ash.
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Final stretch up to the rim of Mt. St. Helens

The sky above the rim was a clear blue and we had hopes that maybe the view North would be clearer than the rest of the horizon, but from the rim the view in that direction looked like the others.
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There was one big difference, the view down into the crater was unobstructed and Spirit Lake lay beyond with its flotilla of logs.
Lava dome in the crater of Mt. St. Helens
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More of the crater
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We sat on the rim for awhile catching our breath and resting our legs. The steam rising from the lava dome coupled with the nearly constant sound of rocks falling down into the crater gave us plenty of entertainment.
Somewhere out there is Mt. Rainier
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Once we had sufficiently recovered we began our descent.
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Going down was just as difficult as climbing up. We slowly made our way back down though and wound up back in the trees. The final 2 miles seemed to fly by compared to how long it took to come down the lava flow and we were soon leaving the volcanic monument.
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Back at the car we had one final look at the rim we had been on just a few hours earlier. It had been an interesting hike, arguably the most difficult we’ve done, but worth the effort.
Mt. St. Helens from the parking lot

Happy Trail!

Flickr:https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157647296074376/
Facebook:https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10204963823042484.1073741907.1448521051&type=1

Goat Rocks Wilderness

We just returned from our longest backpacking trip to date, a three night, four day stay in the Goat Rocks Wilderness in Washington. What an amazing place. Located between Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier the Goat Rocks Wilderness sports spectacular views, vast meadows of wildflowers, and plenty of wildlife. A number of trails including the Pacific Crest Trail provide 120 miles of hiking opportunities to explore this special place. Our plan was to establish a base camp at Alpine and then explore in all directions from there.

We started our trip at the popular Snowgrass Trailhead and quickly entered the wilderness.

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A little over 1.5 miles we crossed Goat Creek on a footbridge.

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In another 2 miles we came to a trail junction where Bypass Trail 97 split off on its way up to the Pacific Crest Trail. Staying left on the Snowgrass Trail we climbed .7 miles to a trail junction.

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The Lily Basin Trail meets the Snowgrass Trail at this junction amid a wildflower meadow. Just a short distance away was Alpine where we began searching for a tent site. The views and wildflowers at Alpine were simply amazing. We ended up deciding on a small site with a view of Old Snowy Mountain.

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After setting up camp we loaded up our daypacks and headed back to the Snowgrass Trail and climbed to the Pacific Crest Trail. The scenery just kept getting better as we approached the PCT. Mt. Adams was standing tall to the SE, Mt. St. Helens sat in the distance to the SW and Old Snowy Mountain & Ives Peak lay dead ahead.

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We turned right (south) on the PCT and headed toward the Cispus Basin planning to go as far as Cispus Pass before turning around. After a mile the Bypass Trail 97 joined the PCT which we would take on the way back. After crossing a large rock slide we got our first view across the Cispus Basin to Mt. Adams peaking over the far ridge.

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The Cispus River begins at the top of the basin underneath more jagged peaks of the Goat Rocks.

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There had been wildflowers all along the trail but as we entered the basin they increased. Adding to the scenery was a waterfall that the PCT passed below.

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The trail continued around the basin crossing the Cispus River and then heading up the eastern side of the basin.

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At the top of the ridge was Cispus Pass and the border of the Yakima Indian Reservation. The Klickitat River flowed below and Mt. Adams was again visible to the SE.

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We returned to Alpine via the Bypass Trail 97 and took a short rest before heading back out to catch the sunset. We decided to try heading further out on the Lily Basin Trail since the Sun would be setting over the ridges in that direction. We passed a small pond with a big reflection before finding an unoccupied camp site where we settled in.

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Clouds started to move in and cover some of the higher points though so we headed back toward Alpine to check on Mt. Adams. The Moon had risen over the ridges to the North of Mt. Adams making for a perfect ending to our first day.

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I was up early on day 2 and was able to catch the sunrise which lit up the clouds over Ives Peak and Mt. Adams.

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Several elk were passing through the trees on the far side of Alpine but the low amount of light left me with a single picture worthy of a bigfoot sighting. 🙂

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We set off early on the Lily Basin Trail planning on passing Goat Lake then continuing on the trail to Heart Lake with a possible side trip up Hawkeye Point. As we headed in that direction the view of Hawkeye Point and Goat Creek falling from the rocky ledge below Goat Lake was another stunner.

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The trail passed through some large wildflower meadows where marmots could be seen scurrying about in the lupine.

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We also passed several waterfalls. The first just disappeared into a rock slide while the second slid down the rocks.

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Everything was so impressive but most of all were the wildflowers. The variety and amounts of them were unbelievable. Entire hillsides were covered in colors.

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And to top it off Mt. Adams loomed behind us.

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When we arrived at Goat Lake it was mostly frozen as we had expected. The lake rarely ever thaws out completely sitting in a bowl beneath Hawkeyepoint.

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From the lake the trail climbed to a ridge crest junction with the Goat Ridge Trail. Again the wildflowers were profuse.

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When we reached the junction Mt. St. Helens came into view beyond the Jordan Basin.

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We left the Lily Basin Trail to attempt to climb Hawkeye Point. As we climbed the tip of Mt. Hood could be seen over the shoulder of Mt. Adams.

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Then came Mt. Rainier beyond Johnson Peak.

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We followed a clear path to a rocky knob where we discovered a large snowfield lying between us and the visible trail up to the summit of Hawkeye Point.

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There was a steep drop part way out on the snowfield and no visible tracks so we decided to declare victory where we were and see if there was a different route to the trail we could see on the far side so we climbed back down to the Lily Basin Trail and started to head toward Heart Lake. We didn’t get far though before we were stymied by another snowfield.

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We decided to take a short break before heading back to search for a different route to Hawkeye Point. While we were resting Heather spotted the one thing I was really hoping to see on the trip – Mountain Goats! There was a pair of them near the top of the ridge across the basin.

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Mountain Goats were on top of my list of animals we hadn’t seen yet while hiking so even though they were a long way away it was exciting.

After they disappeared over the ridge we started our search for a path around the snowfield to Hawkeye Point. We managed to find what turned out to be a goat path that got us around the snowfield, but we were too far down a steep hill with no visible route up to reach the continuation of the real trail. Instead we followed the goat trail passing some beds complete with goat fur to a view of Goat Lake below.

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Satisfied with the view we began our return trip to camp. It was such a pretty trail that was just as spectacular the second time through.

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When we got back to camp we noticed that the family who had been camped further back in the same area as us had left. We took the opportunity to switch sites and moved to a spot with a view of Mt. Adams.

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After getting our new site set up we decided to go up to the PCT junction to catch the sunset. When we reached the junction with the Snowgrass Trail in Snowgrass Flat Heather noticed a large animal emerging from the trees on our right. We could see dark brown and my first thought was Elk but then it stepped out into the sunlight on the trial.

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It was a llama and it looked mighty proud of itself.

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We didn’t see anyone around but someone must have been using it as a pack animal. It rolled in the dirt for a moment then got up and then disappeared into another camp site. It was so unexpected all we could do was laugh all the way up to the PCT.

Meanwhile the setting Sun was bringing out the best in the wildflowers on the PCT.

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We found an open site and watched the Sun disappear behind a bank of clouds that was hanging over Goat Ridge before returning to our tent and putting day 2 to bed.

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Goat Rocks - Mt. Adams sunset

The third day started much like the previous day with a pretty Mt. Adams sunrise.

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The animals were up early too.

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After a yummy breakfast of Mountain House Biscuits and Gravy we headed up to the PCT once again but this time headed left (North) toward Old Snowy Mountain. As we approached the mountain we left the meadows behind for more rocky terrain dotted with lingering snowfields. The flowers were not completely left behind though.

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We spotted a ground squirrel that appeared to be sitting on a ledge enjoying the view along with its breakfast. The ledge it was on looked out over Goat Lake to Hawkeye Point with Mt. Rainier towering behind.

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The trail crossed several snowfields but unlike those we encountered the day before the trail was easy to follow and none were too steep.

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The views were great in every direction and we were able to spot a new mountain to the North – Mt. Stuart.

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The PCT eventually splits with a hiker bypass climbing up higher on the side of Old Snowy to avoid lingering snowfields on a steep, exposed hillside. We took the bypass having seen the snow fields from our exploration of Hawkeye Point the day before, plus we had considered climbing Old Snowy Mountain and the bypass would lead past that trail. When we reached the junction for the summit of Old Snowy we could only make out the lower portion of trail. After the previous days exploits we decided against trying to climb it then and figured we could always try it on the way back past.

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We found out later that the crest of the bypass trail is the highest point of the Pacific Crest Trail in the state of Washington at 7230′.

From the crest the PCT descends to “The Knife” before reaching Elk Pass where we had planned to turn around. As we began to descend though we got a good look at the trail ahead.

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It was the freakiest looking trail we had encountered and for the first time I wasn’t sure I could do it, but after having a couple of thru-hikers pass by and survive we decided to go for it.

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It was nerve racking at first but the trail was good and the views better. We spotted flowers and wildlife all around including a large group of mountain goats in the valley to our right.

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Soon we could see Packwood Lake in the valley to our left.

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Also in that valley was another herd of goats.

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We decided to turn around prior to reaching Elk Pass when we reached a crest and realized that we’d have to climb back up several hundred feet if we continued on and we already had a good climb ahead of us to get back up to the PCT high point.

PCT down to Elk Pass

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PCT up to the crest

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As we were returning the first group of goats we had seen suddenly started to dash across the snow. A second group came racing down from a higher meadow joining the first group.

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We don’t know what spooked them but it was fun to watch them run.

When we finally got back up to the crest the trail up Old Snowy was easy to see. There was a line of people hiking up and down. Between the crowds and our tired legs we decided we’d done enough climbing for the day and headed back to Alpine. Things had gotten crowded in the wilderness as it was the weekend and a lot of people had shown up. Most of the camp sites were now taken so we stuck close to ours until we turned in for the night after the Moon had risen.

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We set our phones to wake us at 5am on our last day so we could get a nice early start. Another amazing sunrise greeted us as we packed up our gear.

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We took the Lily Basin Trail toward Goat Lake and were greeted by a friendly little Pika near Slide Falls.

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The marmots were also out to send us off.

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We stopped at the lake to get some water out of Goat Creek and were paid a visit by a pair of Ouzels.

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Goat Lake had refrozen a little overnight.

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At the junction with the Goat Ridge Trail we took it and dropped down into the Jordan Basin. The best views we’d had of Mt. St. Helens were had as we descended into the basin.

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Of course there were wildflowers.

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And a lot of crickets or grasshoppers.

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There were flowers in this basin that we hadn’t seen at all in the other parts of Goat Rocks.

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Soon we were far enough down to no longer be able to see the mountains. It was a bittersweet hike as we hated to leave this beautiful place but after four days a shower was sounding real nice. We got one last glimpse of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, and Goat Rocks before entering the trees for good.

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The Goat Ridge Trail would take us to the Berrypatch Trailhead and from there a .6 mile connector trail would bring us back to the Snowgrass Trail just .1 miles from our car. We were moving quickly along the connector trail when the wilderness gave us one last surprise. A small tree frog sitting on a huckleberry bush next to the trail.

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Our time was up but we were already thinking of our next visit. We can’t wait to go back and explore more of the wilderness. The only negative to the entire trip was witnessing the disregard for the area that some of the people showed. There were people traipsing through the meadows and setting up tents on the vegetation. Such a beautiful place to visit will only stay that way if people take care of it so please go and visit but stay on the trails and camp on the brown ground not the green. Happy Trails.

UPDATE on the llama.  The llama had indeed either been left or escaped and was seen multiple times throughout the summer.  She was finally rescued this fall and is safe and doing well according to this report: http://www.rattlesnakeridgeranch.com/documents/Rescue_in_the_Goat_Rocks_Wilderness.pdf

 

Flickr albums: Day 1-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157646295294436/

Day 2-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157646295758026/

Day 3-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645936565989/

Day 4-https://www.flickr.com/photos/9319235@N02/sets/72157645937647578/