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.

Hart Mountain Thanksgiving

November 26-29, 2015.

Photos on Google Photos (no captions) or Picasa (captions).

Since 2009, Thanksgiving weekend was an excuse to bail out of social engagements for a few days and retreat into the forest. For six years, I hosted this personal retreat at a cabin in the Willamette National Forest. But this year I decided to do things a little differently. Looking for solitude, we pushed eastward and headed toward the Hart Mountain Antelope Refuge.

The long road

We broke up the drive and camped at Marster Springs Campground outside of Paisley. The road was very snowy and it was a miracle that we could actually drive to the campground in the car. We set up camp in the dark, ate a quick meal and turned in for the night.

We woke up and looked at the frozen thermometer: it was a few degrees below zero. The air was frigid, and we only began to feel human again once the sun crested over the nearby peaks.

On we drove, taking a quick stop at the Warner Wetlands to use the restroom and practice some handstands. You go a little loopy sitting in a car that long. Then began the long and winding ascent up to the Hart Mountain plateau, until we eventually crested the top of it and chose a campsite.

Happy Thanksgiving


It felt like such a treat to set up camp in the middle of the day. The sun felt warm, we could see without the aid of a headlamp, and we had lots of space to spread out. We dug out some paths in the snow, set up the tent and kitchen area, changed clothes, and greeted our chukar neighbors. Then, we scoped out the hot springs and took a little walk around the camp area before it was time to make dinner.

Thanksgiving dinner is a spectacle, whether I’m in the city or the backcountry. I had 2 pots, a skillet, a camp stove and a fire pit. It was time to get to work. I strategically warmed up our feast, which included:

  • turkey (white and dark meat)
  • gravy
  • mashed potatoes
  • mashed carrots and parsnips
  • bread stuffing
  • meat stuffing
  • bread and butter
  • cranberry sauce (jellied and whole berry)
  • green beans


I’d like to say we savored each bite, but it was so damn cold outside we wolfed it down and ran over to the hot springs. We even left most of the dishes for the morning.

The hot springs was magical. We sat and soaked, watching the nearly full moon rise over the stone walls of our little enclosure. The water temperature was perfect. The worst part was getting back out. Emerging from a hot pool, water dripping down your skin, entering the -20 degree air was an experience I hope never to repeat again. We toweled off and jogged back to our campsite, where we dove into the tent and settled in for a cold night.

Warner Peak


We slept in, waiting for rays of sun to reach our camp. While making breakfast I encountered some fun new barriers: all of our food was frozen solid. Eggs crystallized as they came out of the shell (if they hadn’t frozen through already). I had a tough time keeping my pancake batter fluid. These were serious problems that I was kind of glad to have. I enjoy the challenges of making camp life tolerable in below freezing temps.

We got off to a late start for our big hike. At 10:30, we finally stepped out of camp ready for an adventure. The last time I’d hiked Warner Peak was on a hot and mosquito-infested day in July several years ago. The challenges then were much different than the difficulties we faced today.

Instead of following the bushwhack suggested in the Sullivan guide, we walked up Barnhardi road two miles to Barnhardi basin. From there we followed a path to the cabin and had a snack. The air was cold, but the bright sun warmed our skin and contributed to a pretty comfortable hiking temperature. The snow on the ground was light and fluffy, but it was already starting to make walking a bit difficult, especially where it formed deep drifts.

From the cabin we made our way up a thickly vegetated gully towards the ridge. This was slow going. It was walking uphill, through the snow, with loads of roots, branches and other traps buried out of sight. Eventually we crossed the stream and wandered up the other side of the gully, ridge in our view. On paper, the mileage looked really short and do-able. On the ground, however, it felt as if we were moving at a snail’s pace. The late start made us feel even more like slackers. The sun had already crested and we had miles of uphill travel to go. At one point, Aaron asked me to set a turn-around time. I had summit fever, so I estimated a time that would get us back to the road before dark. “3 pm,” I said, ” and that’s conservative.” The last part was to make sure that Aaron would agree and not spend too much time overthinking the math.

As we trudged along the ridge, each little up and down was like torture. A slight breeze began to blow, ominously foreboding a very cold night ahead. We reached the last false summit and caught a glimpse of our prize: a concrete building with some sort of antennae on top, like Mt. Defiance or Marys Peak. Aaron put his foot down here, convinced it was still too far. I glanced at the time: 2:15. “We’ll be there in 30 minutes at the latest. We can do this.”

As is often the case, that last hill looked way bigger than it actually was and we were on top in less than 15 minutes. We ducked behind the concrete building to get out of the wind, bundled up and got the heck out of there. Now, it was a race against the sun.

Much of the hike back was in the shade, and it was savagely cold. The hand warmers I’d opened up at breakfast time were beginning to lose their heat. We trucked downhill as fast as we could. It took a little over an hour to hike the 3 miles back to the cabin and another hour or so to get back to camp. It’s amazing how much ground you can cover when you’re going downhill and scrambling to generate heat.

By far, the highlight of the day was the incredible sunset we saw as we walked down the snowy road to camp. I stopped dead in my tracks to look up and take it all in. The pictures don’t even come close to capturing the beauty of that sunset. It was a fleeting, top ten moment, that made the late start totally worthwhile.

A couple short hikes

In the morning I came up with the best camp breakfast ever: cast-iron scrambled eggs and meat stuffing over a hot campfire. After breakfast, we were fired up to break camp and start making our way back towards civilization. As we were packing up, we both took off our down jackets and looked at each other as if to say “ugh, it’s really warming up out here!” The temperature: 18 degrees. How quickly one adapts to life below freezing.

We drove out to the visitor’s center to use the heated bathroom. A curious coyote came out to say hello, and then we went on our way. Partway down the road, we stopped to hike a 0.5 mile interpretive trail on the edge of the rim. The sunshine was brilliant and the air was so still. It’s amazing that such quiet places still exist in the world.

Further down the road we pulled off to hike DeGarmo Canyon, which was listed in a hiking brochure we picked up at the refuge. The road was unmarked and split into a few other roads, leading to some confusion and false starts. We eventually hiked to the mouth of what we thought was the right canyon. But there were no signs of a trail. We were thwarted by snow-covered slabs and thick trees choking off any reasonable path up the canyon, so we turned right back around. But our time wasn’t wasted; we watched a massive golden eagle fly gracefully along the dramatic rock formations in front of us. We again marveled at the open space and quiet, then jogged back to the car. Did I mention it was cold?

Hole-in-the-Ground


After a wholly disappointing stay at the Summer Lake Hot Springs, we started the long trek home. On the way, we stopped to stretch the legs at Hole-in-the-Ground, a volcanic crater somewhat near Fort Rock. Aaron read his book in the car while I bounded down the steep, snow-covered trail to the bottom of the big hole. I followed a couple of sets of human tracks, and then deer tracks, and then no tracks to the large, flat basin in the center of the hole. The sun illuminated the landscape, making the snow sparkle. It was a worthy stop, much unlike the less dramatic Big Hole (skip it).

And alas, our weekend of adventures came to a close. The one thing I really wanted was solitude, and we found it. As cities continue to grow and spill into our natural spaces it gets harder and harder to get away. But for now, there are many special places left in Eastern Oregon that only the most determined traveler will make the effort to visit. Especially when temperatures drop into the minus double digits.

And snow it begins: Iron Mountain

November 3, 2015.

7.8 miles | 1900′ ele. gain | 2.5 hours

Tombstone Prairie > Cone Peak Meadows > Iron Mtn Trail > Santiam Wagon Road

Google Photo Album

I can’t believe this is my first trip report for Iron Mountain. Located conveniently on Highway 20, with easy access to an incredible wildflower display in spring and summer, Iron Mountain is by far the most popular stop for hikers traveling through the South Santiam River Corridor. Even Portlanders have heard of Iron Mountain. Coming from Corvallis, this is a pretty standard hike for me, and I’ve been on these trails several times since moving here.

But today would be an unusual visit to Iron Mountain. The flowers have long since disappeared, and the large parking area at the trailhead sat completely empty. It was a dreary November Tuesday with hardly any visibility and a lousy weather forecast. Most fair-weather hikers have hung up their boots for the year and have settled in to wait for spring.

This was precisely my best opportunity to pounce on a popular trail, and today I would not be disappointed.

The first half a mile of trail descended to a small meadow just below the noisy highway. The slick mud made for an attention-getting start to the hike. After crossing a small creek on a bridge, the trail led up to the highway for the first of two road crossings (the most dangerous parts of the hike). Then, the trail switchbacked through the forest to rock outcrops and meadows below Cone Peak.

This was the part I’d been looking forward to. Much of the forest floor and tree branches had a light coating of snow from recent snowfall, and it looked like more would be dropping down today. As I proceeded up to the awesome vistas on the south flank of the mountain, I spun around to appreciate not endless views of the rugged landscape, but instead a snow-frosted wonderland enclosed by a dense fog. It was incredibly quiet; the road noise had faded away. Tiny snow flakes drifted down from the sky. Winter had arrived.

I plucked myself out of the mesmerized state I found myself in and continued traipsing along the trail. Some parts were quite narrow and eroded, prime locations for some trail work next year. As the trail left the meadow it dropped back into the woods. Now on the northwest side of Iron Mountain, I could feel the winds blowing from the west and sending snowflakes right into my cold face. I pulled my sleeves down tighter over my hands and kept charging down the trail.

Once at the junction with Iron Mountain trail, I set off on the last climb of the day, gaining over 500′ of elevation to reach the wooden platform on the summit. Walking uphill is a very efficient way to stay warm, so I appreciated the opportunity to keep going without having to add another layer. Icicles formed on the exposed rock beneath the summit. Visibility dropped significantly, and as I continued up I began to get really excited about dreaming up some winter adventures. Surely there would be snow this year.

At the top, an inch or two of solid snow covered the platform and all the interpretive signs. I ducked behind a stubby tree to sit and eat my lunch out of the wind. It was incredible to feel the cold air on my face after an endless summer of warm weather hiking.

On the way down, it was all business as I moved quickly to stay warm and get back to the car. The weather was continuing to deteriorate and I’d seen this all before, anyways. The best was behind me, so now it was time for some cardio conditioning.

I crossed the road once more and reached the junction with the Santiam Wagon Road, which read 1.0 mile to Tombstone Pass. I looked at my watch and started jogging down the trail. I had a lasagna to make tonight. Arriving at the car 9 minutes later, I decided the sign was inaccurate.

According to William Sullivan’s guide, that last stretch of trail is only 0.6 miles, which seems much more likely considering my pace and time. (Don’t trust those FS signs!)

The mountains are saying it’s winter! I’m ready for it. Time to dust off the traction devices, break out the big puffy coats, hats and gloves. I’m so much in love with hiking in Oregon.

Cannon Mountain

July 16, 2015.

7.8 miles | 2300′ ele. gain | 4.5 hours

Lonesome Lake Trail > Dodge Cutoff > Hi-Cannon> Kinsman Ridge> Pemi Trail

Photo album

This summer, I returned to the place it all began: New Hampshire. It’s where the hiking bug first bit, and changed the course of my life forever. I had one day to hang out with my brother and he wanted to go hiking. For our adventure, he chose a loop of trails that would take us on a tour of Cannon Mountain.

This was great for a couple of reasons. One: it was a loop, not a boring out-and-back. Two: HE did the planning! All I had to do was show up and start walking. I was ecstatic.

We started from the Lafayette Campground, lucky to find a parking spot. It was a weekday, and the place was crawling with hikers, campers, and who knows what else. I had forgotten how jam-packed with people it was over there. Undeterred, we crossed the creek beside my favorite “No picnics” sign and set out towards Lonesome Lake.

The trail climbed over exposed roots and rocks as it headed for the lake. It was just as I’d remembered. When I moved to the west coast, eager to climb higher mountains and find more rugged trails, I was disappointed. All I found were well-graded, well-signed, manicured trails with more switchbacks than roots. I couldn’t believe it. Over time, I learned to seek out more challenging trails, but I still longed for the days of fighting my way up the grueling east coast hiking paths.

At the lake, we scanned the signage to find the steepest route up to Cannon Mountain. The Dodge Cutoff brought us to Hi-Cannon, a no-nonsense type of trail that wasted no time gaining elevation. We stopped frequently to catch our breath and praised the tree cover for blocking out the hot, summer sun. Along the way we crossed an old, wooden ladder bolted into the side of the mountain. We also stepped out to an unmarked viewpoint located atop a rocky precipice that dropped seemingly all the way down to the highway.

Back on the main trail we began to hear voices and see tourists who didn’t look like they’d hiked all the way up here; we had made it to the top of the tram. We wandered up to the viewpoint tower and were surprised by a cold breeze. Views seen, we then went back down and over to the base of the tram stop. There, we sat at a bench overlooking the ski track and ate our lunch. A fascinating mix of humanity buzzed and swirled about at the top, all packed up for their “hiking” adventures. I doubt many of them strayed much more than a tenth of a mile from the tram.

We had other plans. From our lunch perch we headed east on the Kinsman Ridge trail to descend the rocky slabs back into the forest. From the slabs, we were treated to beautiful views of the Franconia Ridge, a place I’d hiked so many times before. But, it had been a decade or so since I’d tramped across those mountain tops. It was nice to see them again.

We followed the blue blazes back to treeline and kept descending. The trail was steep, rooty, rocky, and sometimes wet. It was quite an adventure, especially considering we were hiking on a popular trail in a state park! A family of four was headed up as we were nearly down. Not sure how much further they made it; from the sounds of their conversation, I think they believed they were almost done.

When we reached the valley floor, the Kinsman Ridge trail dropped us onto the Pemi Trail. This family-friendly footpath led us along a relatively flat strip of land paralleling the highway all the way back to the car. Along the way we passed by another lake and walked beneath the cliffy east side of Cannon Mountain. This used to be the site of the “Old Man in the Mountain,”  a chunk of rock that resembled a man’s face in profile. Much to the state of New Hampshire’s dismay, this iconic rock formation sloughed off the face of the mountain in 2003. A memorial and interpretive area remain, ensuring that future visitors of the state learn about the history of their precious stone face.

I enjoyed the opportunity not only to get back into the White Mountains but also to share this experience with my brother. He had recently gotten into hiking and was going through many of the firsts that I remember as I was blundering through the learning curve many years ago. If we do one of these hikes together each time I visit, it will only take 47 more years to complete the list of New Hampshire’s 4,000-footers!