Thanksgiving 2016 off the beaten path

November 23-27, 2016.


It’s become something of a tradition, the annual Thanksgiving trip. There are a few important components:

  1. Get away from humanity. It’s not that I don’t like you guys, it’s more that it’s nice to get away sometimes. Like, really away.
  2. Adventure. There must be some places to hike and explore nearby.
  3. Dessert. Pie, ice cream, and maybe some dinner foods and even vegetables. But, clearly dessert is the highlight.
  4. Desert. Yes, drop the “s” and you get another essential. In winter, being in the desert is akin to being on the moon. It’s cold, desolate, barren, and almost guaranteed to be free of people. It’s the perfect place for me (and Aaron) to experience solitude on this crazy holiday.

Planning for Thanksgiving is almost as fun and anxiety-inducing as undertaking the trip itself. I dug out some hiking books and pulled out the Oregon Gazeteer to scout some locations. Now that we’re in Bend, we’re three hours closer to the dry side, and that opened up a world of possibilities.

As you read the story, check out the photos.

Arriving in Eastern Oregon

The day finally arrived, and we loaded up the car with supplies. Heading out of town on a late Wednesday afternoon, we quickly angled south and east, driving past Fort Rock, Silver Lake and Winter Rim. A quick stop in Paisley for dinner and our bellies were full for the last stretch of the drive. Our travels took us nearly to Nevada, then we turned off into a maze of gravel roads for 20 miles to our camp.

In the pitch black night sky, we swerved and skidded to avoid literal hordes of jackrabbits who were apparently meeting for a star party. There were SO MANY of them. I was relieved when we pulled off the road and didn’t find any pelts flattened on the car tires. We quickly set up camp under brisk 20-degree evening skies and fell asleep.

A four mile tour

I had acquired some rough hiking information for this area from books and websites. Today’s jaunt would be a 4.5-mile loop with about 1500′ of elevation gain. Pretty mellow by the numbers. But we discovered yet again that theory and practice are often very different beasts.

We began walking up a dirt road in the direction of a spring. When we arrived, we found a spot with slightly more vegetation than the surrounding area, suggesting perhaps there was water nearby. A small, fenced in area prevented us from walking straight towards our destination, so we veered left into a jumble of rock pinnacles, canyons and brush.

Making our way through, over, around and down the rocks took a lot more time than the “as-the-crow-flies” distance would suggest. But it was a fun little scramble. We found caves, interesting rock formations and lots of animal sign. The gray clouds above set a moody tone across the vast desert. We had all day to ramble, and so ramble we did.

The mountain we were ascending was more like a rolling plateau with several highpoints. We walked over one of them without even registering it as a destination since we were so focused on the higher point in our sights. Atop that high point, we sent a SPOT check-in to the family back home and continued towards the next peak ahead.

A barbed wire fence blocked our passage to the actual high point, so we sat on a pile of rocks out of the wind and finally ate lunch.

Coming down was an adventure, too. We aimed for a broad gully between the two peaks. The seemingly straightforward slope was a medley of tangled sage and loose rocks. Slowly we plodded downhill. It was nice to finally reach a dirt road and briskly hike out the rest of the way.

Thanksgiving dinner

Six miles and 4.5 hours later, we made it back to camp. A couple of hours relaxing in the tent killed the remaining daylight. Then it was time for the real festivities to begin.

I’d learned a lot about preparing a massive holiday dinner on a camp stove in the last seven years. This year I streamlined the menu and the prep, and making an incredible meal was a cinch.

On our plates:

  • roast turkey
  • gravy
  • mashed potatoes
  • green beans
  • cranberry sauce
  • bread and butter
  • meat stuffing

And of course, dessert. We had a delicious apple pie from Newport Market. Our campfire provided warmth and ambiance on that long night, and we marveled at how dark the skies above were. We’ve been to some pretty remote places, but it felt especially dark here. No moon, just some stars through the clouds. With no fire or headlamp, and no light pollution on the horizon, it felt like being in a cave. Pure darkness. And pure silence. No air traffic overhead. That particular combination of darkness and quiet was something I’d never felt before.

Another day, another hike

On our second adventure from camp, we walked back up the road we drove in to try and find a “trailhead” for a second mountain hike. This one started at an alleged road that would lead past a watering hole to a gate. We walked right past the road’s location, as confirmed by checking my GPS app, so we walked cross-country in the general direction of the aforementioned road.

Upon finding the watering hole, we kept climbing uphill until a gate came into view. The “road” was so overgrown it was barely even noticeable, so it didn’t help us walk faster or stay on course. The mountain was visible from camp so the route was very simple. The only obstacle was the barbed wire fence in our way.

Aaron figured out how to open the gate, thankfully, as I alone probably would have just climbed over the rock pillar to pass over it.

On the other side, we just walked uphill, avoiding the occasional boulder and the very frequent animal den. The rabbits were very busy digging holes in this hill.

As we neared the summit, the wind started blasting full force. When I stopped to catch my breath I was nearly knocked to the ground, so I just kept moving. On top, we again sent a SPOT signal and had a little snack as we tried to protect ourselves from the battering wind.

My hike directions mentioned that you could do a ridge walk over several other little highpoints, terminating on a pointy bit a couple miles away. Sounded like a plan to me, so we fought through the wind over the broad, rocky ridge, wondering exactly which of the many highpoints we were aiming for.

Along the way we encountered another fence, but found an easy place to cross it. As we ambled down the ridge, the wind began to die down a bit and the walking almost became enjoyable again. The remoteness of the region was so beautiful. With the exception of the fence and one dirt road, there was hardly a sign of human presence here.

Atop our final highpoint of the day we surveyed the area, trying to identify the valleys, peaks, mesas, and other features we could see from there. And, in the back of my mind, I was quietly scheming the next trip.

We set a bearing to our camp and headed in a straight line, cross country, to our destination. We knew there would be two fence lines in our way, and decided we’d just figure out that bit when we got there.

The first fence crossing had a conveniently placed board that allowed us to push the wire down and cross over. Easy. On we walked, crossing a field filled with golden grass. Aaron spotted a coyote in the distance, the first thing besides a rabbit that wed seen. Keeping right on our compass bearing, we continued over undulating valley hills. In the distance, I saw the fence. As we got closer, I saw a gate. Right. Where. We. Needed. One. It was kind of ridiculous. We passed through the gate and had nothing but time in between us and our camp. It turned out to be a glorious day.

Another restful afternoon in the tent, and then dinner. Chili, if you were wondering. It’s not only delicious, warm and hearty, but pretty easy to make in camp. But the highlight of this evening was ice cream ball soccer. We were a bit too full last night to have ice cream with our pie, so we saved the festivities for tonight. Ice cream ball soccer has been part of the Thanksgiving tradition for the past few years. It’s fun, and a great way to generate some heat on a cold winter camping trip.

Nevada-bound

The next morning, we packed up the car and had a quick breakfast: banana, ice cream and chocolate almonds (that’s all the food groups, right?) before heading out. We cruised over the gravel roads easily, this time in the daylight and without rabbits everywhere. Back on the highway we continued into Nevada with our destination in sight: Sheldon National Antelope Refuge.

I’d tried to find some information on sights to see in the refuge before we left on our trip. But information besides the basic logistics was hard to come by. The official refuge brochure states:

“Hiking is encouraged throughout the refuge where open terrain provides ample cross-country hiking options. No designated trails are maintained, but game trails may be followed up many drainages and onto plateau tabletops.”

The refuge overview map indicates some places, but there’s no information on how to get there or what there is to do/see there. I found a few newspaper articles mentioning hiking, but again there were no directions or recommended places to go. We would be on our own.

So we began at the Virgin Valley Campground, the only campground that was maintained for year-long use. The campground was nice, but really windy. On our way in we’d noticed a beautiful canyon and were curious if we could check it out. A road behind the campground led uphill towards a purported viewpoint. We drove up the road until we felt like stopping, then walked about 2 miles to an overlook above the canyon.

It was jaw-dropping for a number of reasons. Glorious views, check. Dizzying heights, check. No guard-rail or signage to prevent you from free-falling to your death, check. Just nature in all her raw beauty. And we’d just kind of stumbled across it. There’s real value in adventure, something that is lost with astonishingly easy access to information.

That’s one thing that drew me here: the surprising lack of information. No trails, no hike descriptions, no step-by-step maps. As our parks and wild places become enticing destinations for more and more visitors, they appeal to me less and less. I don’t want to share the trail with 500 other people just to see a view I’ve seen posted all over the Internet thousands of times before. It’s just not that much fun anymore. When you venture off into places unknown, there’s greater potential for more memorable experiences. You run the risk of encountering duds, making wrong turns, and problem-solving obstacles, but isn’t that the whole point of exploring?

Now, our appetites whet for more we retreated down the road to find our way to the mouth of the canyon. Before heading in we warmed up some soup for lunch. The sun was reaching its afternoon peak and we’d appreciate that for our exploratory walk into the depths of the canyon.

We started up a game trail that led up into the jumbles of rocks beneath the canyon’s steep but crumbly cliff walls. Not good for rock climbing. Besides, every crack, hole, crevasse, and depression looked like an animal condo. I’d never seen so many middens, dens, and piles of animal scat in one place before. We hoped to see some critters in there, but they were safely tucked away for the duration of our hike.

Aaron led the way, and as the game trail petered out we hopped across talus fields, scrambled down to the water and tramped along the dry, cracked mud at the edge of the stream. We hiked to a sunny patch in the canyon, where we plopped down on a boulder and lay out like a couple of lizards, absorbing heat before continuing on.

We had planned to turn around there, but Aaron was wondering what was around the next corner…

That’s a dangerous road to travel in a twisty canyon. There’s always another corner. But it was so hard to turn back. Eventually we did, picking a different route and making new discoveries along the way. It was one of the highlights of the whole trip.

Last camp, and a surprise

Since the roads were clear, we decided to drive west through the refuge on one of the auxiliary roads to scope out a few more camping options. We drove through expansive sagebrush hills, looking hopefully for a herd of antelope, but to no avail. We saw about 8 deer near the Virgin Valley Camp, and that was it.

When we got out of the car to explore, we were met with bitter winds and cold that sunk right into our bones. It became more and more difficult to leave our cozy, mobile cocoon.

As the sun was threatening to go down, we pulled into the Catnip Reservoir Camp. A few haphazard fire rings sat near the lake. There was a pit toilet, but no other amenities. We chose our favorite site and began assembling our camp. The wind was constantly reminding us that we humans are not built for this. My frozen fingers set up the tent as quickly as they could while Aaron worked at getting a fire started. In my makeshift kitchen I squatted by the camp stove with wind pouring up my backside through the gap between my sweatpants and my five upper layers. So that’s why Patagonia sells onesies, I thought. I used the rest of our turkey gravy in our pork stir-fry, which was a warm and welcome addition to the meal.

We grabbed a chocolate bar and retreated to the tent soon after dinner to warm up. The wind would continue to blow all night.

And then, it began to snow. Icy pellets of snow pounded into the tent fly for half the night. I didn’t know what to expect the next morning, or how awful the roads would be. We still had many, many miles of unknown gravel road to get back to Oregon.

Homeward bound

We waited for a break in the weather before bursting out of the tent. We moved efficiently to get a fire going, make breakfast and tear down camp. The snow relented enough so that we were only battling the cold and the wind. Only. I admit I was a little grumpy this morning, as I fought with cold hands, a finicky stove, and snow-covered everything.

After getting some cocoa and eggs in my belly I felt a little more human and rallied to pack up the tent and load up the car. The roads were totally driveable, and the whole scene covered with a blanket of fresh snow was nothing short of magical.

My photos do nothing to paint the picture. Thick clouds and filtered sun made everything on camera seem much darker and flatter than they looked in person. Score another point for actually being there instead of living through pictures. You really need to be in a place to truly experience that place. Even if I had a pro photographer documenting this trip, the pictures do little to communicate the wholeness of the experience.

Choose your own adventure

This year I’m signing off with a plea. Go out. Just go. Explore. Find a new special place. Be there, in the moment. Prepare to be astounded. Prepare to be frustrated. Prepare to learn a lot: about yourself, about your travel buddies, about your world.

But here’s the key: prepare. Here are some tips to planning and carrying out your next adventure in the wild unknown:

  1. Do your research. Find out what you can about an area. Buy or borrow guidebooks. Pore over local maps. See what you can locate online. Find recent trip reports, if possible. Or at least look for trip reports around the same time of year you anticipate going on your adventure. A trip to Sheldon in July is going to require different planning than a trip in December.
  2. Anticipate and plan for problems. If you’re heading into the desert, bring more than enough water and an extra can of gas. Have the tools and knowledge to take care of possible car problems on the road. There’s no cell service and no amenities for many, many miles.
  3. Have a plan, and be flexible. Communicate your plan to at least one responsible person back home. Let them know where you’ll be and when. Let them know when you’ll be back in town, and when to sound the alarm if they don’t hear from you. Have a backup plan, or two, in case what you want to do just doesn’t work out. Make sure they know your backup plans, too!
  4. Carry a communication device. I’ve used the SPOT messenger for several years. And while I’ve never had to call for a rescue yet, I know that I’ve got that option if the you-know-what hits the fan. By far the most important feature is that I can check in with my contacts back home to let them know that all is well. They get an email with my GPS location and an “OK” message.
  5. Keep a positive attitude. You know all those epic photos from National Geographic and pro adventure athletes? There’s a lot of pain and suffering behind each one of them. Adventuring off the grid and into the unknown can have its ups and downs. It isn’t a totally blissful experience from start to finish. Stay positive, be ready to be challenged, and face each one with a smile. It’s all part of the experience. You’ll be tired, cold, hot, achy, and irritated. But you’ll also be joyful, curious, exhilarated, and awestruck. And these are the feelings that keep us coming back and pushing the envelope.

Four-in-One-(Sno)-Cone

October 19, 2016.

Scott Trail > Four-in-One-Cone

8.5 miles + | 1500′ ele. gain | 5:45 hr.

Photo album

Weather window + free day on the calendar = adventure time. Today I decided I wanted to see some snow-capped lava.  Since the Old McKenzie Highway was still driveable, I set out for the Scott Trailhead in an attempt to reach Yapoah Crater.

Just getting to the trail head was an adventure. Black ice covered the road west of Dee Wright Observatory, and the road to the trailhead looked more like a swamp than a road. I got out of the car and poked through the water with my hiking poles to see if my little car could make it. Luckily, the water looked much deeper than it actually was, in most spots.

Looked like a death trap.

I got to the trail head, crossed the highway, and set off along the very mucky Scott Trail. Parts of the trail were so waterlogged it felt like I was walking up a streambed. And the last thing I needed was soaking wet feet in the first tenth of a mile of a 12 mile hike. I carefully skirted around the worst bits, trying not to crush too much vegetation in my efforts to keep dry feet.

I fell into that comfortable solo hiking rhythm, following a serpentine train of thoughts in my head. As the terrain kept buzzing by, I had that sneaky suspicion that I was off track. How could that be, I thought, since I literally just had to stay on the same trail for miles until I had to make some decisions?

I came up to a trail sign, and that’s when I knew I’d missed a junction. I was headed towards the Obsidian Trail. Ah, crap, turning around always feels bad. How could I have made such a stupid navigational error?

I arrived back at the junction where I should have gone left instead of right and knew exactly why I had missed it.

Can you see the trail junction?

I had been walking to the right of the creek, and simply kept walking on that side. The Scott trail crosses the creek right here and goes off to the left. There was no sign and you can barely make out a trail over there. Welcome to the joys of shoulder season hiking!

No worries, now that I was on track I could get back to being lost in my head. It was so pretty and quiet. There were lovely little footprints in the snow. Oh hi there bunny rabbit, where were you running off too? And you, little squirrel-y critter…what was your story? And you…. mister…..

BEAR.

Fresh bear tracks.

Goddammit. Broken out of my reverie once again. The bear tracks continued straight up the trail, and they looked fresh. I broke into a loud song: “HEY BEAR!! HEY THERE BEAR!!! WHERE’S THE BEAR?!!!” I accompanied my melody by clacking my poles together and trying to be as loud as possible. When the tracks retreated downhill, into the forest, I kept up my noisemaking for a little while longer and then settled down.

Ok, now it was time to get down to business, I’d hoped. The trail broke out of the thick trees at a switchback and I got a brief view over the forested hills and snow-covered slopes nearby. Then, the trail returned to the woods where I finally was able to settle into a pace and put some miles behind me.

I’d hiked this trail a couple of times before. Most recently, I’d used it as a return route from a hike up the Obsidian Trail to the Collier Glacier Viewpoint. And several years ago, I’d hiked up to Four-in-One-Cone. But both times it was in summer. The snow cover gave this place a distinctly different feel. It was like hiking on a brand new trail.

Eventually the trail traversed past a crumbly lava wall. This was the part I was looking forward to. The contrast of the sparkly snow on the dark lava rock was quite beautiful. And soon I’d enjoy views towards North Sister.

Snowy lava

But here, the walking began to get much more difficult. The snow in the trees was crunchier and much less deep. Out in the open, the snow drifted much higher. A thin crusty film overlaid light, fluffy powder below. Each step I’d lift up my foot as if I was marching, crunch through the top layer of snow all the way to the bottom, then repeat. It was exhausting.

As I slowly proceeded up the trail I could see that the conditions were only going to continue to get more difficult. I had a few more miles to go to Yapoah Crater. I could also see that clouds were moving in, and the weather wasn’t going to hold up forever. With each step I weighed my options, and decided to go for my backup plan: Four-in-One-Cone.

There was a spur trail on the map that led up to the summit. Once I got the peak in eyesight, I decided to just pick my way up there. Way off in the distance I saw something that looked like a signpost, but there was no point trying to stay on trail. Breaking a path up the perfectly smooth and untouched snow slope made me happy.

Four-in-One-Cone

The snow up there was more wind-blown, so I sought out the thinnest spots where my boots could get some purchase on the cinder. I couldn’t believe I didn’t bring my snowshoes with me today. Stupid. I’d have been halfway between here and Yapoah Crater if I’d have planned better. Oh well, this was a pretty awesome consolation prize.

Once I hit the ridge, a blast of wind hit me and I quickly put on my rainshell before pushing on towards the summit. I walked up to a seriously twisted tree near the top and memories of my last climb up here came flooding back. Now it was a totally different scene: a pristine winter landscape, with an incredible halo above North and Middle Sister.

A message from the gods?

The view was surreal. And it was so quiet. I hunkered down out of the wind to eat the soup I’d packed for lunch. I took some time to just sit and be there. From my perch I looked out across a vast lava landscape, the one that inspired my Lavapalooza trip last summer. How different it looked back then.

This is the Three Sisters Wilderness. The one that screams of overcrowding and ill-prepared tourism. This is the place that can feel like a complete zoo on a nice, summer weekend. This is that same place, but a different place. On a Wednesday. In October. With not a soul for miles.

You do have to work a little harder to find solitude. You have to be flexible with your schedule. You have to choose the right trail, or choose to go off it. But in about 90% of this wilderness you’d be challenged to find another person sharing space with you. And to me, that little extra effort is 100% worth it. To be here, alone, with the wind and the snow and the bear tracks, is an experience that cannot be found on a hike up South Sister in August.

I killed a decent amount of time up there before deciding to pack up and go. It was a bit sketchy on the way down. I searched for the deepest snow I could to plunge my heels in and feel some security. No Yaktrax today either, so DUMB! Before long I was back at the deep postholes I’d left on the way up, and I dutifully followed them back to the trail.

On the walk out, under the blazing sun, everything was melting. The snow piled up on lava rock was more shiny than sparkly now, and by the time I made it to the woods, snow was pouring down off the tree tops. I put my hood up and moved as quickly as I could. But I got nailed with a couple of massive snow bombs: one right on the top of my head, and one on my forearm. They scared the crap out of me!

Pretty water droplets

But the forest was still beautiful. It got me in the mood for winter. For snowshoeing and climbing and hot cocoa. For long, cold nights huddled around a campfire. For big skies full of stars.

After the hike I stopped by the Dee Wright Observatory at McKenzie Pass. There were several groups of retirees on sightseeing trips, waddling around in the snow. I walked up the stairs to the viewing deck and took in a panoramic view of all of it. All those snow-covered volcanoes. Picking out the ones I hadn’t yet climbed to the top of. Someday, Jefferson. Someday…

Crater Lake National Park

October 8-9, 2016.

Living in Bend has opened up many doors for recreation. Now, Crater Lake is only a 2 hour drive from home. So we sneaked in this last chance opportunity to visit several of the park’s attractions before the north entrance and rim roads are closed up for the winter. Here are the highlights.

Union Peak

11 miles | 1600′ ele. gain | 5:45 | PCT > Union Peak Trail

Photo album

So many Southern Oregon peaks have been on the edges of my radar, but I haven’t made too much of an effort to get down there. The way Sullivan describes the Union Peak hike in his book makes it sound like one to skip. So I knew we would find some peace and quiet here.

The long approach on the mostly flat PCT would have gone by more quickly if there weren’t so many cool trees to stop and look at. Many of the trees, maybe hemlocks (?), had multiple trunks and interesting features. We had to climb, play, and photograph before moving along.

It was still fall but there was snow up in the hills already. The slog on the PCT was mostly snow-free but once we reached the Union Peak trail we started crunching through the white stuff more often than not. Eventually we popped out in a meadow with a view towards the rocky pinnacle of Union Peak. Finally, we could see what we were in for.

After a snack break, we continued along. As Aaron scouted a nice viewpoint, I had to re-find the trail in an indistinct section. Before long we were starting the switchbacks that climbed up this steep hillside. While the trail sign warned us of “the steepest trail in Southern Oregon!” we enjoyed the nicely graded pathway that clung to the rocky wall.

All along we basked in the bright sun and had endless views of the countryside. In the last 15 feet of the climb, the trail was completely obliterated so we carefully picked our way up in the simplest way possible. The exposure was enough to remind us to really pay attention. The snow on top of the rock made it just slippery enough to feel like an adventure.

From the top, perfect views. Peace. Quiet. The kind unheard of in a National Park. We felt incredibly lucky to be there.

The hike down was just as mindful as the way up, making sure not to slip on the snow-covered rocks. And when we got back to the car, well, we still had some exploring to do!

Godfrey Glen

1.1 mile | 50′ ele. gain | 30 minutes

Photo album

We were in the southwest corner of the park, so next we hit up the Godfrey Glen Trail. This hike sounded much more interesting than it actually was, and if you’re pressed for time, I’d recommend skipping it altogether. To be fair, it does get close-ish to some cool ash structures, but the viewpoints aren’t great. So you feel like you’re next to something really cool and you can’t quite get a good look. Shocked that this is listed as a wheelchair-accessible trail. You’d better have off-road tires on your wheelchair and a buddy if you want to take this one on. Or maybe there’s a community of badass wheelchair users that I’m just not aware of.

Sun Notch

0.8 miles | 150′ ele. gain

On to the next viewpoint hike. This one was fun. And also, comically, rated as wheelchair-accessible. I’d be terrified on some of those slopes. Gosh, maybe I’m just a big weenie? I dunno. This hike climbs up from the parking area to several beautiful views of Crater Lake. Since this one is on the main drag, you will be sharing the trail with lots of characters. Prepare.

You can see the Phantom Ship from this viewpoint, which is pretty amazing. From this viewpoint, it’s hard to imagine that the tallest spire stretches up 200 feet! It looks so tiny.

Phantom Ship Overlook

We kept puttering along, checking out all the viewpoints to find a good spot to watch the sunset. While Aaron was busy capturing the majestic golds, yellows and pinks as the sun dropped behind the lake, I was taking this SWEET photo of our adventure-mobile.

Pinnacles Trail

0.8 miles | 10′ ele. gain

Now this is the hike to do to see the ash spires. We went early in the morning, so none of my photos do this hike any justice. You’ll just have to go see for yourself. The easy trail edges right along the top of the canyon, where you can see the impressive towers coming up on both sides. It also gave us an excellent vantage point of Mt. Scott, which we’d take on next.

Mt. Scott

4.4 miles | 1250′ ele. gain | 2:15 hrs.

Photo album

Mt. Scott is the highest point in Crater Lake National Park, it offers a view of the entire lake, the trailhead is right on the main drive, and it’s less than a 5 mile roundtrip. So as you can imagine, you’ll be sharing this trail with some people.

Actually, most people walk up the trail 20 yards or so, take a picture, and then get back to the car before their lattes get cold. So it’s actually not as bad as you’d expect it to be.

It was a chilly but sunny morning that we headed up to Mt. Scott. The trail was beautiful, crossing a pumice plain and some pockets of forest before making the ascent to the lookout tower. The twisted whitebark pine stood as evidence to the extreme weather conditions the native plants and animals must survive here. The trees were simply gorgeous.

Near the top the forest thinned dramatically and we were exposed to all the wind. The final stretch crossed a ridgetop leading right to a fire tower. There, some hikers were discussing some of the must-see places in the Cascades. We skirted by the conversation, found a quiet spot out of the wind and enjoyed snack time with views of the lake.

I didn’t get to all the points of interest I wanted to see on this trip, but we bought an annual pass to encourage more visits over the next year. There are still a few highpoints in the park I’d like to climb, and the west rim was closed for road repairs. While many online reviews list Crater Lake National Park as a half day trip at the most, I’m excited to spend more time on the ground adventuring around this beautiful landscape.

Waihe’e Ridge hike

May 26, 2016.

Check out all the photos!

Waihe’e Ridge

5 miles | 1500′ ele. gain 

Another beautiful day on Maui, another beautiful hike.

There aren’t a ton of hiking trails on Maui, so it was important to get an early start. That we did on this lovely Thursday morning. We arrived at the parking lot early enough, after getting turned around on a few confusing roads and getting stuck in school traffic.

There were just a handful of cars in the lot when we parked. The trail began as a concrete road just behind a cattle gate and immediately launched up a steep hill. That got us warmed up right away. Shortly we passed into the forest. The trail became wide, muddy, and overrun with roots. We were covered, thankfully, by a broad canopy of leaves that shielded us from the hot sun. The trail climbed and climbed up to the ridge, with occasional views extending out across the nearby valleys and peaks. We were lucky to catch some incredible glimpses of the fluted ridgelines to the south.

A few sections of trail clung to a narrow band of earth that was guarded by very thick shrubs on either side. These plants were clearly well-adapted to the challenges of living in this climate. The trail became more and more mucky and slippery as we ascended. The sky, which had been cooperating thus far, began to surround us with clouds. We pushed our way up hill, working hard to breathe in the thick, moist air. As we approached the summit, the visibility was very poor. At the top, all we saw was a picnic table, a couple other people, and a thick bank of clouds.

The spiders making webs on the ridgetop plants became the highlight of the summit area.

We hung around a bit, in case the clouds miraculously parted, but we became more impatient as we waited. More and more people filed up the trail to rest at the summit. And we decided to head back down.

Suddenly it felt more muddy than before, and we were glad to have our hiking poles with us. It was absolutely incredible to see the massive amounts of people on their way up the trail. One group after another marched along, having loud conversations and slipping and sliding their way through the mud. No wonder this trail looked like a disaster. Near the bottom, there appeared to be a large school group doing some sort of project. I was sure glad to be done with it.

The one park in Maui to avoid

After the hike, we visited quite possibly the worst and most poorly managed park I’d ever been to, ‘Iao Valley State Park. Fortheloveofgod, skip this park if you ever go to Maui. There’s no real hiking, the few trails are run down, it’s insanely crowded, the bathrooms have been out of order forever, and they charge you $5 for parking even if there’s NOWHERE to park and you have to drive like a vulture waiting for a car to leave. Google the photos online and save your sanity by visiting this park virtually.

MauiPark

Followed by a real gem

Lucky for us, we made an excellent choice for our next stop, Ho’okipa State Park. This beachside recreation area had grassy, shaded sitting areas, a beautiful beach, several food carts to choose from, and a series of incredible tidepools. Oh, and plenty of free parking!

We got some lunch from one of the food carts and lounged in the shade as we listened to the soothing sounds of the ocean. We wandered through the tidepools, where we discovered some really cool intertidal sea creatures, and curious sea turtles bobbing around in the water.

Today was  one of the slower-paced days of our visit (after the hike was over!) as we were saving up our energy for a snorkeling adventure tomorrow.

Exploring West Maui on land and sea

May 25, 2016.

We came, we surfed, we ate shave ice, and we traversed an acid war zone. But that’s not all! Blowholes, banyan trees, dragon’s teeth, and much more awaits the curious visitor on Maui’s western shores.

View today’s photo album.

By now we were getting settled in on Maui. Most of our time had been spent in the upcountry, however, and we were ready for the beach. We got up early to head to Lahaina for our very first surf lesson.

Not having planned ahead, we showed up at a surf school to try and get a same-day lesson. But the first place we stopped into turned us down, so we walked across the street to Banyan Tree Park where Aaron started making phone calls to other shops nearby.

I wandered beneath the gigantic Banyan. Native to India, this tree was brought to Maui over 150 years ago as a gift. It was planted, nurtured, sculpted into a symmetrical shape, and now covers nearly an acre of parkland with its enormous canopy. Prop roots dangling from the branches were encouraged to root into the ground in order to create satellite trunks. These new trunks enabled the tree to keep growing wider and wider, providing a nice, shady respite from the Hawaii sun. Meanwhile, Aaron scored us a surf lesson from the Goofy Foot Surf School and we were off to our next adventure.

We met our instructor, Armadillo, a stereotypical-looking surf bum. After the rest of our group arrived we headed to the beach for an introduction to surfing. He taught us how to stand, how not to stand, how to turn, where to put our arms, etc., all while safely grounded on the beach. After that we paddled out into the water where we followed him out to the surf one person at a time. I had to leave my glasses behind so I was going blind from here on out.

Amazingly, we each got up on our first wave, excited that the abusive lesson we’d just endured actually sunk in. We went on to have varying success on several more waves in the next couple hours. They were pretty small and predictable, but it was pretty exciting to be standing on top of the water.

After that we were ready for a snack. We stopped at a shave ice stand so Aaron could see what all the fuss was about. I had fond memories of shave from the last time I was in Hawaii. We both enjoyed our treat, one of many, many more that we’d have on this trip.

We putzed around for the rest of the morning and early afternoon, trying to escape the wind and rain showers. Around 3 pm we pulled up to the parking area for the Dragon’s Teeth. Our guidebook described a short walk alongside a golf course that led to an unusual rock formation at the ocean’s edge.

It took us a few minutes of walking around, asking “is this it?” before we literally walked single file along a thin dirt track sandwiched in between a golf green and an ancient Hawaiian burial site. It was weird. But soon we saw the formation and knew we were in the right place.

Tall fins of solid lava rose up from the cliff edge like waves frozen in time. The gray clouds above  us and the gray rock beneath our feet created an eerie mood about the place. Succulent plants provided an occasional burst of color within the black and white scene.

We watched waves crashing. We looked at all the nooks and crannies in the rocks. It was a mesmerizing place. Just wandering. Not hiking. Not walking to a destination. Just being, exploring. Aaron went his way and I went mine and eventually we met up again and thought, “well this is cool.”

But there was one more geological oddity we needed to see today so we hustled back to hop in the car and continue north along the coastal highway. We drove through a couple tiny towns, eyes on the windy road, not stopping until we got to a parking area for the Nakalele Blowhole. The book described a few ways to get there, but we wanted to take the “Acid War Zone” hike to the blowhole. So we pulled into what we thought was the right spot.

The blowhole is, of course, marked on Google Maps (isn’t everything?) so we knew we were in the right neck of the woods. There was no sign, and no trail. but some vague directions to cross the brushy shoreline to a lighthouse and then walk cross-country through the rocky “war zone” until we happened upon the blowhole. Hooray for another adventure! We found our way through the sand, shrubs, and trees to a man-made structure that resembled some sort of light beacon. There was a parking area there, with a truck there, so I guess we could have started further up the road. Regardless, we found a little path through the rock that was marked with white blazes (are we on the Appalachian trail, I thought?). Down we went through the rock. It was, in fact, carved up as if the rock had gone through an acid bath. The pock-marked black lava rock was ruggedly beautiful.

It started to rain. We were mostly prepared for that. We pulled out our rain shells and zipped up our phones in their protective cases. We encountered one guy heading towards us who confirmed we were heading the right way. After cresting over a couple of rock piles we found our blowhole.

It was just what you would expect, a hole in the rock where a column of water bursts through with each incoming wave. Standing in the rain, it didn’t feel all that impressive. But we enjoyed the meandering walk along the rocks. I wonder now, that I’m back at home, if we found the right one or if it was one of the distractions along the way to the real thing. Not sure that it matters at this point.

Heading back we were on a serious mission to the car. We were getting chilly, Aaron’s sandals were failing and the rain was pouring down harder now. It was not one of those sunny days with lovely palm trees like all the travel brochures depict. It felt like a war zone, and we hurried along to the shelter of the car. It had been another long day.

Coming from Oregon, we were hoping to bask in some much-needed sunshine, but instead it felt like the rain and cold followed us across the ocean. Not to worry, though, because at least we were prepared for it. Our tropical vacation was chock full of unexpected surprises and it would continue to offer interesting twists and turns as we worked our way across Maui.

Road to Hana

Road tripping Maui: Discover wild tropical flowers, hike through a bamboo forest, walk on a black sand beach, and the highlight of the trip!

May 24, 2016.

Click to view photo album

We got up at o-dark-thirty to begin the very popular drive to Hana. The plan was to drive out to the far side of Haleakala National Park to hike the bamboo forest, making a few detours along the way. Our trusty guidebook was very frank about which attractions were worth stopping at and which were not, so we bookmarked a few key points of interest and hit the road.

First stop: Haipua’ena Falls. A brief walk up a dirt path led through the thick, tropical vegetation to this pretty little waterfall. It was a nice Hawaiian sampler: colorful flowers, lush greenery, interesting mushrooms and a picturesque cascade pouring into a pool.

Wai-ana-what-a ?

With a lot of ground to cover, we kept our eyes on Hana while making just a few more stops along the way. One noteworthy stop was at Wai’anapanapa Park, a beautiful place with a crazy name. There was a lot to explore, including lava caves, a black sand beach, and shoreline trails. It was impossibly sunny and bright. The ocean sparkled as the water swelled towards the rocky shore. We walked along a short hiking trail past some caves, then meandered towards the black sand beach. Several people were out sunning themselves on the dark sand. The black lava rock created sharp, statue-like formations along the edge of the surf. Every angle looked just like a postcard: palm trees framed lovely ocean views in the intense light.

Back on the road, there were more and more roadside stands selling fruit, flowers, banana bread and trinkets. We cruised past Hana, where suddenly there was traffic congestion and people everywhere. The next stop was the Kipahulu entrance to Haleakala National Park.

Seven Sacred Pools

We were really excited to see these pools. Based on the description and photos in the guidebook, this was a serious must-do stop. But here it was overcast, gray, gloomy. And the path to the pools was closed due to dangerous surf conditions. So we couldn’t get very close and the view we got wasn’t very spectacular. Disappointed, we found a little nook tucked under a pandanus tree to sit and eat our sack lunch. Despite the mob of tourists visiting the site, no one walked by our sweet little lunch spot.

Pipiwai Trail

But the main attraction at this site was a 2 mile hiking trail to Waimoku Falls. The secret was clearly out; the trail was wall-to-wall packed with people. We pushed our way up the trail. The crowds died back a little the further we got from the parking lot, but not by much. We passed a few smaller waterfalls on the way to the big one. But the highlight of the walk was the bamboo forest. The thin bamboo stalks seemed to go on forever. At times the dirt path gave way to boardwalks. The whole place felt like it was manufactured, like we were walking through a cartoon. Only once before had I walked through a bamboo forest, many years ago in Thailand, and I remember it feeling equally strange and magical.

At the end of the trail there was a tall, skinny waterfall that felt like it had been transported from Oregon. People were whooping and hollering loudly from below the falls. Their voices echoed across the basin so although we couldn’t see anyone through the foliage, we sure could hear them. Other people stood at the viewpoint, getting into every photo. It was anti-climactic. One of those hikes that was worth doing once, but the whole time I kind of wished I wasn’t there.

We returned quickly, and about 2 minutes from the car the sky tore open. A quick but dramatic deluge of rain poured down on us. We praised our good timing and began the drive back into town. Along the way, Aaron stopped to pick up a hitchhiker (because I guess you do stuff like that). She was a tiny whisper of a person, a young, free-spirited, eco-traveling, hippy-type who needed to get into town for a yoga class or something. She was perfectly harmless and grateful for the ride.

After Hana we finally made a stop to buy banana bread and eat homemade ice cream. So yummy. Then we had the long and lazy drive back along the road, which was now packed with other drivers. The road was in remarkably good condition, it was just really narrow and treacherous in spots. It was one of the most scenic drives I’d ever done. The tropical plant life extends right to the car window as there was no shoulder on the road and only occasional pullouts. Cliffs on one side, trees and waterfalls on the other, there were no lack of sights to see while driving. It was important to be vigilant about other drivers, however, who seemed to have no ability to pay attention to the road or be smart about where it was okay to pull off the road. Near some popular waterfalls we had to wait as people were just randomly milling around in the middle of the road, with cars trying to get through in either direction.

It was a great way to spend the day, but we were ready for some more active adventures in the days ahead.

Oh, and one more thing

There were several stops I neglected to mention. I feel really strongly that we’re living in a time where too much information is at your fingertips. Every place has been written about, photographed, geo-tagged, and marked. There’s not much mystery in the world. But one of my favorite things about traveling is the sense of discovering a secret place for the first time. While none of the best spots we found were any secret, they were sort of happened-upon discoveries that weren’t on our pre-planned agenda.

At one of these special places of discovery, Aaron asked me to marry him. I’ll never forget this moment, or this spot, and the story is ours to keep forever. It was the perfect time and place, and we had it all to ourselves. No crowds. No food stands. No traffic. No tourist attraction signs.

 

The best adventures are the unexpected ones that come about by just being in the moment.

Makena State Park

Get an early start and the island is your playground. On Maui’s South Shore, climb a big red hill and relax on Big Beach with a capital B.

May 23, 2016.

Big Beach > Pu’u Ola’i (Red Hill) and tide pools

3 miles | 400′ ele. gain | 2 hours | Photo album

We woke up early so Aaron could meet his SCUBA boat at the dock by 5:30 am. The island was on fire. Or so, that’s what it looked like as we drove down from Kula towards Kahului on our way to the dock. A bright red-orange glow stretched out on the horizon below us. As Aaron drove I scoured the Internet, looking for breaking news. Nothing. Maybe our eyes were sleepy, or there was some local phenomenon that just made it look like we were driving into a massive brush fire. The closer we got to it, the less dramatic it appeared. We’d later learn that the sugar cane fields are burned right before harvest. Didn’t read that in the guidebook.

Aaron got on the boat and I was left alone in the dark on the island, so…what’s a girl to do?

Red Hill and Big Beach

I kept driving south to Makena State Park. The gate was locked but there was plenty of on-street parking so I locked up the car and walked along the short road into the park. One of the old guidebooks in the Corvallis Public Library mentioned a hike up a red hill inside the park. It was not a huge climb but it was a prominent feature and it intrigued me. I walked across the sand on a deserted beach that appeared to dead end into a rock face. Huh?

As I got closer to the rock I conjured up the scene with the worm in The Labyrinth:

And when I reached the wall, the opening made itself obvious. It was a brief scramble up a rock ramp to the base of the hill. I’d read online that the trail had been closed due to a rock slide. A sign was posted there to prevent people from going further. But it was apparent where the ground had slid and it was easy enough to avoid the sketchy stuff. I skirted around the base of the cinder just enough to pick up a network of steep use trails that climbed up towards the top.

The scratchy vegetation that made its home on that hill was just thick enough to be difficult to avoid. I guess this wasn’t the best day for shorts. When I reached the top of the hill I realized I was on the rim of a small crater, not at a clear summit. I traced the edge of the crater in search of the best viewpoint. The sun had not yet crested over the mountains to the east, so I sat in wait for better sunlight. From my perch I could see Kaho’olawe, an uninhabited desert island and the smallest of the Hawaiian islands. I admired the beautiful, yet thorny, lantana flowers, blissfully unaware of its epic weed status at that point.

After circling around the crater I descended back down the scree and took a short detour across a rock outcrop protruding into the ocean. I passed by some dazed-looking campers (squatters?) and walked down to a stretch of tidepools at the water’s edge. I wasn’t alone out there, someone was smoking and listening to music on his phone speaker, so I took a quick look around and busted out of there.

It’s nice to finish a hike with a walk on the beach. By now, a few walkers, runners and swimmers were around but it still felt quiet and peaceful. I took my shoes off, walked barefoot across the sand and listened to the waves crashing into the shore. A stand of trees at the opposite end of the beach provided some welcome shade. I relaxed there to kill some time before picking Aaron back up from the dock.

Later in the day we’d do Hawaii right. We had our first shave ice (but not last!) of the trip, went snorkeling, and had a picnic on the beach. I’m pretty sure we saw a hawksbill sea turtle at Makena Beach. It didn’t look like all the green sea turtles I’d remembered from college a billion years ago. The design on the shell was much more complex and geometric.

Sugar, sugar

We learned about the afternoon wind on the South shore. It was kind of nuts. The water got so choppy while snorkeling that we had to get out, then it was nearly impossible to enjoy a quiet lunch in the grass. It felt like we were eating in a hurricane. Yet another reason to get an early start! We packed up and visited the Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Museum on our way home. The best part was actually outside the museum, where they had some old trucks and machinery plus a ton of cool trees. Aaron foraged some nice looking mangoes from the ground to bring back to the house.

Baby goats

I finish here not with a random pictures of baby goats, but a purposeful picture of baby goats. We swung into the Surfing Goat Dairy Farm hoping to take a tour, but the last one had just left. Our consolation prize was getting to gawk at the babies playing in their little pen near the gift shop.

Haleakala Crater

Explorations of Maui’s big volcano. See rare plants, dramatic geological features, beautiful flowers and some curious wildlife.

May 22, 2016.

Haleakala photo album

Leleiwai lookout 0.25 mile | <100′ ele. gain | 15 minutes

Sliding Sands trail to Halemau’u traverse 11.2 miles | 2300′ ele. gain | 5 hours

Hosmer Grove 0.5 mile | 200′ ele. gain | 30 minutes

 

The Haleakala volcano comprises most of the land mass of Maui. It’s also part of the National Park system and it’s got a ton of hiking trails. So this was our next stop in exploring the island. Our guidebook mentioned that this was the place to go to watch sunrise, and that it’s totally a must-do item on the Maui bucket list.

One Google search pulled up images like this one:

haleakala sunrise

Source: Honolulu Advertiser

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I decided that there was no flipping way we were going to stand up there with all those idiots and watch a sunrise. Instead, we mosied up there at our own pace, with the benefit of NO traffic.

Since most people come super early for sunrise viewing, there were literally 3 other cars on the road the entire drive up to the summit. We stopped at 2 short view point hikes along the way that let us get a glimpse of the crater and feel the cool Hawaiian wind. One of these was the Leleiwai Lookout. This short trail was a great way to stretch the legs after sitting in the car. The chill morning air and steady wind snapped us right into hiking mode. Decked out in our warm layers, hats and jackets we strolled out to a magnificent viewpoint of the crater. Well, it’s not really a crater. Interpretive signs at the viewpoint describe the scenic vista as a depression formed by erosion near the summit of the huge volcano. What a coincidence.

Next we reached the summit area,  where we wandered around admiring the silversword and looking for parking lot chukar.

At the park bookstore, I picked up some postcards and asked the ranger for hiking advice. We wanted to hike the Sliding Sands trail, and we were curious what the best options were besides an out-and-back along the same route. She recommended the traverse that went down into the crater, then up and out the other side. The only caveat with this hike was that we’d need to hitch-hike from one trail head to the other. Conveniently, there’s a marked pullout on the summit road for people wishing to do this hike, so that drivers can safely stop and pick up any hikers. The smart way to do this, she said, was to park at the end of the hike and hitch-hike to the summit so that you end up hiking back to your car. If you did it the other way, you might stand around and not be able to get a ride back!

With the ranger’s blessings, we drove back to the Halemau’u trail head and packed up for our hike. Another pair of hikers looked like they were attempting the same thing when we got there, so they hustled up to claim their spot along the road before we did. We were right on their tails.

After 30 minutes of waiting with every single car driving right by us, one of the other hikers walked up and said what should have been obvious from the get-go: “Would you like to carpool and hike with us?”

We left our car at the trailhead and they drove the four of us up to the summit. It was finally time to begin our hike.

Sliding sands

As we descended into the volcano, I could think of only one thing. Dang, this looks like Central Oregon! Again we found ourselves in a familiar landscape. With all the hype I’d read about this trail, I was surprised at how well graded and not loose it was. It was quite a nice walk. The sun was really strong even though the temperatures were quite moderate. We chatted with our new hiking companions from Seattle, Jason and Stacey, who kept a nice walking pace.

The landscape was barren, with metallic-green silversword plants dotting the brown lava rock. Occasional sprouts of color would appear. Interesting plants were somehow able to make a living up here. The trail cut through a broad depression containing several cinder cones. The rocks were colorful, too; bands of color painted the rocks in the distance.

Halfway through the hike we stopped for lunch at some big boulders in the lava. It was a nice opportunity to take off my shoes and let my feet relax. We didn’t bring hiking boots for this trip. Instead I was wearing minimal running shoes. The lava rock was really beating up my feet, but I knew I could just push through on this one hike. I’d recommend a stiffer-soled shoe for anyone considering this hike. Unless you’re tougher than I am.

Halemau’u

As we were finishing our lunch, clouds filled the sky and it started to rain. We quickly packed up and headed out. The terrain was now changing from wide open lava fields to lush, green meadows. At the base of the cliffs near Holua we passed through a gate. On the other side, the trail began a series of gradual switchbacks that climbed the cliff. We’d transitioned right into the heart of the rain forest. Moisture hung in the air and visibility dropped significantly. We could just see the trail up ahead. Magnificent ferns grew in thick clusters on the rock walls.

The views must be awesome on a clear day but I wondered if there’s ever a clear day on this section of trail.

Up and up we went, leapfrogging a couple other small groups of hikers tackling this trail today. We knew we were getting close to the trail head when we started seeing flip-flops, shorts, and cotton sweatshirts.

We drove our new hiking buddies up to their car, then continued back down the mountain for one more stop.

Hosmer Grove

As we pulled into the Hosmer Grove parking lot, we saw a woman with a tiny pig on a leash. Just add one more character to the running tally.

The weather was dismal. Misty, cool, poor visibility. But we were up for another half-mile of walking. This loop was well-signed with placards identifying several trees and shrubs. We saw non-native trees, like eucalyptus trees with bark that looked like camouflage print. We also learned about native species like pilo, mamane and ili’ahi (sandalwood) . I’m pretty sure we saw some honeycreepers flitting about in the trees but none came close enough to get a good look.

It was wet. We were muddy and tired. It was time to head home.

Back at the rental, we foraged in the kitchen to put together some sort of meal. It ended up being a pretty nice chicken and veggie stir-fry in coconut milk with ramen noodles. It was a challenge to chop meat and veggies with a dull knife on a cutting board the size of a postage stamp. Aah, rental house kitchens. They’re usually more fashion than function. I imagine most people don’t bother cooking on vacation.

Day 2 was a success. We hiked through familiar-looking volcanic terrain with a couple from the Pacific Northwest. Wait, we’re in Hawaii, right?

Waihou Spring Trail

We’re not in Oregon anymore (even though it kinda feels like we are.) Take a walk through a man-made forest in the Maui upcountry.

May 21, 2016.

Waihou Spring Trail > spring and loop

2 miles | 500′ ele. gain | 1 hour | Photo album

We arrived at the Kahului airport on a Saturday afternoon, excited to spend 2 weeks exploring Hawaii. The plan was to split our time between Maui and Kauai. We chose Maui for water sports and beautiful beaches, and Kauai for hiking and gardens. Our Maui rental was located in the “upcountry” region, far from the coast. Since I wanted to get out and hike on day 1, we picked the closest easy trail I could find, the Waihou Spring Trail.

We arrived to a surprisingly bustling parking area in the waning afternoon soon. Looked like this place was frequented by the locals, who were walking their dogs, taking a leisurely stroll, or wheeling their tunes around in a luggage-sized rolling speaker. Ha! And I thought people talking on speakerphone on the trail were annoying. This was a new source of irritation I didn’t even know was an option.

 

Anyways, we quickly brushed past the speaker-bound surf dudes and found ourselves walking through a very familiar-feeling forest. We could have stayed in Oregon for this, I thought. As we continued along, we came to a very brushy opening that was the alleged viewpoint. There, we saw a spur trail leading down to the Waihou Spring. This trail switchbacked down through the trees; this is where all the elevation change happened. In the woods we heard a pheasant and the nearly continuous crowing of roosters. Partway down we passed a couple of people stopping for a snack break and complaining of how hungry they were; they must have been needing a bit of fuel to get back up the trail. Soon we reached an “End of Trail” sign that terminated at a rocky viewpoint of a tall, wet wall. The wetness was the spring, and the wall just reminded me of Western Oregon basalt. So that was the spring.

We turned to go back to the main loop, and halfway up the switchbacks we saw the food break group making their way down. I guess less than a mile of walking on flat terrain was enough to work up their appetites. We passed them again and heard some scratching in the leaf litter. Suddenly two of the noisy roosters were in plain sight! This was our first forest rooster encounter, and at this point during the trip this was super exciting.

Back up at the start of the spur, we nodded to the speaker-toting broskies, who were taking their own snack break, and we finished up the loop. The forest was lovely once it was quiet. Sunlight streamed down in thin rays through the tall, thin trees. The branches seemed to create an arching canopy over the trails, as if we were walking through a royal passageway. In some locations, there were huge piles of branches that were arranged to form shelters. We couldn’t figure out if that’s what they were, or if a class had come through to practice building things, or they were part of an art illustration, or just kids messing around in the woods. There sure were a lot of characters out here, so all bets were off.

As we reached the trail head Aaron spotted what appeared to be a Northern cardinal hopping around on the ground near the trail. A cardinal. Out here? I was learning so much about introduced birds in my first hour on the trail.

The forested Waihou Spring trail is not the type of attraction that draws visitors to Maui, but it’s a nice enough hike to do if you’ve got an hour to kill in the upcountry. It was a strange introduction to being on vacation in the tropics. We’d have our fair share of beaches and rain forests in the weeks to come.

Brown Mountain Snowshoe

January 2, 2016.

Summit Sno-Park > PCT > cross-country to Brown Mountain summit and back

7.5 miles | 2400′ ele. gain | 6:45 hrs. | Photo album

We spent new year’s just outside of Ashland, with so many new possibilities in Southern Oregon right outside our back door. After much deliberation I settled on Brown Mountain, a peak just across the road from Mt. McLoughlin, and one I’d had my eyes on since hiking a nearby piece of the PCT in 2010.

Our journey began at the Summit Sno-Park, where two other people were just getting their snowshoes on as we pulled in. They set off in the direction of Mt. McLoughlin, and soon we set off in the opposite direction: searching for the road crossing.

According to the summer map, the PCT led south from the parking lot to cross highway 140 and continued south towards the flanks of Brown Mountain. We followed a marked winter trail beneath power lines for a ways, then wandered around a bit with the aid of a map Aaron saved on his phone to find where to cross the road.

The snowplow had basically created a 5 foot tall snow cliff on the side of the road so we chipped away at the sidewall a bit with our trekking poles to make a safe descent. At the same time, we saw the two other snowshoers finding their own way across the road. Guess they realized they went the wrong way out of the lot.

We discovered that our plans were similar. As we paused to take out the map and get our bearings, they set off into the forest.

Since we’re usually the ones putting fresh tracks in the snow, it was a nice change of pace to settle into someone else’s snowshoe tracks and scoot along behind them. We took our time, snapping photos, layering on sunscreen and adjusting layers. It was below freezing in the shade, and the air felt bitterly cold.


As we crossed the lava flow, Aaron noticed a plume of steam rising from the snow ahead of us. What we found was one of several steam vents on the mountain. The snow melted in curious shapes around an open hole in the ground. It was a reminder that we were traveling in volcano country.

Eventually the forest opened up and the bright sun beamed down, warming our cold faces. The trail went in and out of the trees, and eventually our fellow snowshoers’ tracks left the PCT and headed cross-country in the direction of Brown Mountain. We dutifully followed the footprints in the snow.

The pair in front was a guy and a girl. Both had ice axes strapped to their packs. The guy looked like this wasn’t his first rodeo; his partner, on the other hand, came across as a newbie. He cruised ahead, occasionally stopping to look back, leaving her in the dust. Eventually her energy seemed to flag as she was stopping frequently and slowing her pace way down. We passed her, asked how she was doing, and she responded, “It’s going…” with a grin on her face.

As we climbed higher and higher, the landscape became steeper and more open. We had lovely views of the route ahead of us. There was now more sunshine than shade, and the views became prettier with each step. Fewer trees meant more wind, however, so we found a sheltered spot to stop and have lunch before making the final big push up the slope. The girl slogged by as we rested, and while I’m sure she was tired she seemed to be in good spirits. She appreciated walking in tracks. Her partner was taking long strides, and I was taking short and easy steps. Short steps helped me conserve energy and made life a bit easier for those walking behind me.


After refueling, we continued up the mountain. Suddenly, we caught up to the other group as they were headed down. They’d decided to call it a day. I thanked them for breaking so much of the trail and set off into fresh snow. As much as I enjoyed the ease of walking in someone else’s footprints, I lamented the loss of the sense of adventure I feel when walking into untracked terrain. Now I had my chance; with most of the routefinding done for me, I had the opportunity to do my favorite part of the climb on a clean slate of sparkling, white snow. I could hardly contain myself. I checked back frequently to be sure Aaron wasn’t too far behind; I didn’t want to let my excitement drag me away from my partner.


The slope got steeper and I paused to remember the snowshoeing fatality I’d read about just yesterday. While I was pretty sure I was not crossing avalanche terrain, the possibility messed with my head a little bit as I carefully trudged up the steepest sections of the mountain. In some places the snow just slid out from under me as my snowshoes struggled to gain traction. I was glad to have my poles to help climb over the worst of the obstacles, and breathed a sigh of relief when I reached the softly undulating summit plateau.


At the false summit, we could see a couple of other points on the horizon that looked higher than our present location, so we summoned up the willpower necessary to keep going. We skirted around a couple of steam vents and followed some mystery ski tracks into a stand of trees that brought us out to a high point on the other side. Just beyond another tree stand, I saw another point that was probably a few feet higher than where I was. But, I knew Aaron was tired. When he crested the last hill, I announced, “we’re here!” And, pointing to what was most likely the true summit, said with certainty, “That doesn’t look higher than this point, right?” We called it good, sent our SPOT message home, and quickly took off back down the mountain.

The descent always takes so much less time than the ascent. We made it through the worst bit pretty quickly, then it was smooth sailing down the wide open snowfields on the way back to the trail. We talked a bit about how snowshoe trips are analogous to life. Yes, the top of the mountain looks impossibly far away when you first set out, but if you set lots of intermediate goals and just keep taking one step at a time, you ultimately get there. The key is to make a plan and then stick with the plan, even if it feels really tough or it takes longer than you thought it would.

If more people figured that out, I’d be unemployed.


As we mused about these life lessons, the miles passed by. Soon we were back at the PCT and could hear traffic on the road. Going down the sloped snow wall on the south side of the road was easy, but going up the sheer snow face on the north side was tough. We chipped some foot holds into the sidewall and Aaron gave me a boost from behind to climb on top of the snow. He had to work a bit harder to make a nicer stepping platform for himself to get on top, too.

As we walked back on the winter trail that led to the parking lot, we passed a handful of people out sledding down the tiny hill behind the parking lot. Seemed like a long ways from anywhere to sled down a really boring hill. But, to each his own. At least they were outside having fun, just like we were. It was a nice end to another spectacular day in the mountains. I hope this sets the tone for an adventure-filled 2016.