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At Last, a Summit

December 18, 2012.

Day 3: Fields Peak and Crane Hot Springs

Hiking up Fields Peak in winter

It was finally time to get down to business. Today promised to be a long day of hiking. Based on the snow level at camp last night, I knew we’d be wading through snow all day today. I chose a summer hike that held some potential for winter exploration, but I had little idea of what to expect.

We drove towards the McClellan Mountain Trailhead with the ambitious goal of hiking to McClellan Mountain and the more practical goal of reaching Fields Peak. Since we didn’t roll out of camp until 10am or so, I ratcheted down our plan to get as close to the summit of Fields Peak as possible.

We parked the car at a bend in the road where the snow began to deepen and the grade of the road ticked up a notch. Here we packed up and bundled up for a cold day. The sun was shining and the snow was light under our feet. We began walking uphill in the snow, aided by snowshoes. In less than an hour we reached the actual trailhead. I guessed the road walk added about 2 miles and a couple hundred vertical feet, round-trip, to our 4.6 mile, 1850′ elevation gain hike.

The Revised Trailhead

The trail was very easy to follow even under the snow. Aaron and I took turns breaking trail as we walked in and out of the trees. The desert forest was open and sunny, with views of the surrounding valleys and ridges at several points of the hike. Once we started getting views of big mountains ahead, I began getting excited about the prospect of reaching a summit.

The first real view of what looked like a mountain ended up being Moore Mountain, which was not on the day’s to-do list. I was pretty disappointed. Moore Mountain’s bare, white flanks glistened in the sunshine and just beckoned for exploration. But, I wanted today to be a success and I thought that Fields Peak was our best bet.

It’s Just Moore Mountain
Moore Mountain in winter

We continued along the trail, watching the trees get smaller and more twisted, as anticipation started to build. I’ve always enjoyed the excitement that comes from leaving the comfort and safety of the trees and entering the vast, open unknown. As we left the last gnarled tree behind, we entered a Martian landscape of wind-scoured snow dotted with tiny branches from the rugged shrubbery lying just beneath the surface. We cinched down our jackets tightly as we faced into the wind and kept pushing up. The trail spiraled up towards the summit. It re-entered a stand of trees and got steeper. Once the summit cairn was in view, we left the trail behind and angled straight up to the top. The combination of blinding sun rays, steady wind and bitter cold made it feel more like the summit of Everest than a 7000′ bump in the Oregon desert. But it was precisely the combination of wild, wintry conditions and the exhaustion of a hard day’s efforts that made the accomplishment feel so sweet.

Aaron coming up Fields Peak

Jess on summit

We celebrated on the summit after putting on extra warm layers and taking lots of pictures and videos from where we stood. We happily shared steaming, hot chicken soup from the Thermos I’d carried up there. The rest of lunch would have to wait until we were out of the wind. Once my SPOT message sent, we hurriedly left our prize behind and headed back to the relative safety of the trail in the trees.


As the conditions returned to warm and sunny, we stopped to take many more pictures of the rime-crusted trees, sweeping mountain vistas, and glistening snow. We devoured our PB&J sandwiches and basked in the warmth of the December sun.

The hike out was great. It was all downhill and the trail was already broken. We were riding high on sugar and the success of our summit. We arrived back at the car five and a half hours after we began.

Three hours of driving brought us through Burns, Oregon (the next Bend, I hear…) to Crystal Crane Hot Springs in Crane, Oregon. I went here last year for a soak and I finally had a great excuse to go back. We arrived well after dark. The cold air outside of the hot car was surprisingly exhilarating and hit me like a ton of bricks. I rushed inside to reserve a private tub room and soon we were in hot springs heaven.

Ready for a Soaking
Crystal Crane Hot Springs

For $7.50 each we got to soak in our own private little hot tub room, fed by the natural springs outside. Days of sweat, grime and soot blissfully melted away. After the soak—a shower—then it was off to find a camping spot for the night.

I remember having a hard time finding forest land near Burns so we drove back up 395 to a Sno-park/Campground called Idlewild. It was empty, of course, but the little car made it through the snow to a campsite so we called it good here. By 10 pm or so we were finally settling down to a home-dehydrated meal of beans, pasta and ground beef. It tasted gourmet.

It would be a cold night but I’d strategically planned a lazy start tomorrow morning so we could stay bundled up in our sleeping bags as long as we wanted.

Finish the story
Day 1: Snowshoeing Near Santiam Pass
Day 2: John Day Fossil Beds
Day 3: At Last, a Summit
Day 4: The Epitome of Cold
Day 5: Snow-tacular

View all the photos on Picasa.

West McMillan Spire

September 7-9, 2012.

West McMillan Spire

Goodell Creek trailhead > Terror Basin > West McMillan Spire and back

Approximately 20 miles | 9000′ ele. gain

Picasa Photo Album

This was my first venture into the Picket Range in the North Cascades. The Pickets are notorious for the burly approaches and challenging, remote peaks. I was really excited to get going but a bit nervous about what to expect.

The original plan for our team of four was to tackle the South Face of Inspiration Peak, a multi-pitch 5.8 rock climb accessed only after crossing a heavily crevassed glacier. I was a bit skeptical of this objective since we were getting such a late start to the approach, but I was just happy to have the opportunity to poke around up there.

On Friday morning we picked up permits in Marblemount and drove to the Goodell Creek climber’s trailhead. We got off to a casual start around noon and began hiking up the trail. The trail followed an old roadbed for about 3.5 miles. It was flat and extremely well-maintained for a climber’s trail. But the pleasantness was immediately over when we reached a large cairn and arrow made of rocks that directed us straight uphill. Over the next few miles, we gained about 6000′ of elevation. Steph Abegg has a great graphic that shows the mileage and elevation here.


It was hot, and we were working really hard. Eventually we popped out of the forest, traversed along some cute heather meadows and then continued up some more. I was happy to find ripe huckleberries along much of the approach. They were like miniature morale-boosters.

The sky was growing dim and we were still nowhere near our camp. We finally approached the saddle that we’d cross to drop into Terror Basin. On the other side was a steep slope and a snow gully with a moat near loose rock and vertical dirt. I assumed we’d have to descend the moat, so without delay I began downclimbing. It was really crappy and loose but with the snow directly to the side it felt less exposed than downclimbing the slab. At the bottom, however, the loose stuff continued and the snow went away. We all made it down this treacherous nastiness without incident, and hightailed it across more snow and rock to find a camp. Just as the sun went down we settled in near a big boulder with a flat, sandy sleeping spot.

In the morning, our team dropped from four to three as one person opted for a rest day. Again, we were off to a late start. I knew Inspiration was out of the question. An hour of walking brought us to the camp we’d hoped to reach last night. Another hour brought us to the foot of the glacier. It was heavily cracked up and it would take some skillful navigating to find a direct and safe route to the rock. Then, there were several hours of climbing left on territory that was new to all of us.

Terror Basin
I asked if there was an alternate peak we could get up from here. Glenn suggested the west ridge of West McMillan Spire, a third-class scramble. We could clearly see the gently sloping ridge from where we stood. it looked totally doable, so we changed our itinerary and set out towards the spire.

The glacier crossing here was very moderately sloped and crevasse-free. We took our sweet time ascending the snow, stopping every so often to look around at the awesome scenery and to guzzle down some water. It was murderously hot! The air was almost perfectly still and the sun was blazing.

We stopped short on the glacier, avoiding the steep snow finger that led to the base of the west ridge. Instead we angled onto some rock and decided to “lead” a couple of pitches to get some use out of all the rock gear we’d hauled up here. We stashed most everything else, including 2 packs and all the snow gear here. Then I started up a vertical-ish slab and placed a couple of pieces for the hell of it as I quickly scrambled up easier and easier rock. I belayed my partners up and Glenn wandered further to pick out another crappy vertical section and we got some simul-climbing practice in. Yeah, not for me. Now I know.

West Ridge West McMillan Spire
Once we put all our toys away we each chose our own adventures up the mellow west ridge. I went for the more solid, vertical sections since they were short and fun and not that exposed. The guys seemed to prefer the loose talus and scree for whatever reason. Either way, we all made it up to the false summit and then completed the final traverse to the small summit block. The views up here were hard to beat. The mountain dropped away steeply in all directions. We had amazing views of the Picket Range and beyond. Glacier Peak, Mt Baker, Mt Shuksan and the Liberty Bell Group all stood proudly among the glaciers and spires. I could see no evidence of human civilization in all 360 degrees around me. It was spectacular.

Summit shot

Descending the ridge was mostly easy. We had to avoid the steep stuff near the bottom that we’d simulclimbed up. Instead we took a loose, exposed gully back down to a point where we could see our packs. Here Glenn veered off across ball-bearing covered slab to another loose gully where he was cornered in a moat. Brad and I chose the awesome slab on the other side and got down pretty easily. It was amusing to watch Glenn in action as he self-belayed with a nut tool over the narrow but deep snow moat.

We walked back down the glacier, staying to the left this time, to avoid crossing the waterfalls and having to downclimb the steep, polished slabs we came up. From there, it was a mostly straightforward snow and slab traverse back to camp. By now I was pretty worn down and was really looking forward to taking off my boots and settling down in camp. Even though we just did an easy scramble, it was still an 11-hour day.

Dan was looking rested and spry as he had a nice, mellow day hanging around the beautiful camp area. No one else had been down in the basin since we’d arrived. We all ate dinner and watched the sun set, then happily headed off to sleep.

The next morning, I awoke in a hanging mist and couldn’t see a thing from camp. We were totally socked in with clouds. That was going to make for a super fun day.

Another lazy start (arg!) this morning meant it was also going to be a long day. We were all dreading the awful moat we’d had to descend from the saddle to enter the basin and had been strategizing alternate routes for the way out. We left camp at 7:45 am and trudged up the snow to the more solid-looking rock beneath the moat to our right. It looked mostly easy and straightforward, but it was steep and exposed and we’d had our heavy packs on. We ended up protecting two pitches–one on the slabs beneath the moat and the moat itself. This was the smart thing to do, but it did cost us a couple of hours. At 9:45 we were finally up and over the saddle and began the long walk out.

We wandered through the clouds, following trails worn through the heather and cairns marking the rock as we slowly began the long, traversing descent. But the mood changed rather quickly when the real descent began. Just as surely as the trail shot straight up a couple of days ago, it dropped straight down in a hurry. This was the most heinous descent I’d ever done. my quads and knees were screaming for mercy. My feet weren’t faring any better. There was no relief along the way, it was just all down all at once. I relished every tiny bump that led uphill as opportunities to give my poor muscles a rest.

Cloudy forest

But all was well as we dropped down the final bit of trail to the old forest road. From here, walking would be a breeze. I kept my internal radio station on mindless, mellow songs as we cruised all the way back to the car. By 3 pm we were done.

This was arguably the most challenging trip in recent memory for me. What surprised me the most was that my muscles didn’t feel completely spent the next day. I guess that means I could have pushed harder. And THAT means I will be back in the Pickets again soon.

Sahale Climb

August 26-27, 2012.

With my Forbidden Peak climb plans falling through, I quickly made plans with Lee to take his son up Sahale. We left Portland early Saturday morning to pick up permits at the Marblemount Ranger Station for the next two nights. Luckily, permits were available since we hadn’t come up with a backup plan.

After killing a day chasing bunnies and trying the various eating establishments in Marblemount, we drove to the end of Cascade River Road and prepared for a long day of hiking. We had an 8-year old with us and I had no idea how that was going to go. I assumed the worst.

The hike began on the trail to Cascade Pass, which was extremely well graded, with the most switchbacks I have ever seen. Nonetheless, about 5 minutes of walking passed before the little guy wanted to sit down and take a break. So, it was going to be like this…

Lee was good about setting short goals, like we’ll take a break after X switchbacks, but there was still an awful lot of resting and not a lot of walking. I was hoping to at least be able to hunt for huckleberries as we plodded along, but as this was a very popular trail, the berries were mostly picked over. I got a few, but quickly lost interest in looking.

Cascade Pass

Hours later we made it to Cascade Pass and took a lunch break. The views were breathtaking from here. A huge, wide valley opened up in front of us and throngs of hikers came and went across the trail. Once we left the pass, the trail switchbacked a bit steeper now. Up on Sahale Arm, the grade dropped and the views became more enthralling. We walked through green meadows dotted with patches of wildflowers. Dramatic, craggy peaks rose up from the valley on all sides. I could recognize Eldorado, Forbidden, and Johannesburg, and the others were too numerous to count. It was here that I broke away from the other two (sorry…) and blasted away towards camp.

The end of the trail rose sharply up a loose talus field to the camp, which was perched atop a gravelly moraine. A hiker we passed earlier recommended the camp on the second of three domes, so I chose that one for us. I unpacked, ate some food, drank lots of water, and took some pictures. It felt so good to have that heavy pack off my back and Crocs on my feet.


45 minutes later, the boys rolled into camp and G was instantly bored. I was flabbergasted. I will spare the details of the hours whiled away at camp.

The sunset was spectacular. Pink clouds decorated a dimming sky and the moon rose over the snow-capped peaks. I took a walk to the composting toilet, which was right out in the open on the ridge to camp. Using the loo was not for the shy camper. I was tempted to linger there, as the views were particularly gorgeous.


The next morning, we awoke to clear skies and a cool breeze. It was going to be a great day. We motivated to get breakfast going quickly and start climbing the mountain. It would take some time to gear up at each of the switchovers, so the more time we had, the better.

A short jaunt from the camp brought us to the base of the glacier, where we put on crampons and roped up. I would head the team with Lee on the other end and his son just about 10 feet away from him on the middle of the rope. I thought that would put me out of earshot, but I got to deal with being ordered around by an 8-year old screaming to “slow down” or “speed up,” depending on what he felt like doing. Actually, this is not much different from roping up with adults; being on a roped snow climb is obnoxious unless you have a really killer team of climbers who are all on the same page.

Sahale glacier

The glacier was mellow and short. Soon we were taking off our crampons to ascend a rocky pile to the base of the summit block. This also took some time, as the rocks were loose and I didn’t take the time to coil the rope nicely so I was dealing with a mangled rope butterfly held over one shoulder. We didn’t know exactly where the climb started and Lee mistakenly sent me, the worst routefinder in the universe, to scope it out. I stopped basically where I didn’t feel comfy scrambling without a belay and built an anchor there. I led up and over a rocky corner just a short ways until I found a rock slung with a red piece of webbing. I belayed them up and led a second pitch. This time I found a legitimate route on solid rock with good gear placements. I also found a sweet fist crack that had some webbing inside it, which I clipped and climbed over.

The summit area was small, but there was more webbing there so I quickly got safe and put the dudes on belay. It was windy and cold up there, so I hunkered down and appreciated bringing the BD guide to make the belaying chore a bit more bearable.

On the summit

View of Glacier Peak

With the 50 m rope, two raps brought us down to safe terrain and we hiked back to the snow from there. Crampons on, ropes on. This time I took the tail end of the rope as the kiddo and his dad led out. This was perfect. I kept enough rope in my hand as a buffer to allow me to walk at a reasonable pace and I may have let the rope pile up a bit on my end in places. There were a few big cracks in the glacier but our route was well away from them and so we were in a very safe situation. We made it back to camp around 1pm, in time for lunch.

The plan was to hike out and drive home today, so lunch was casual as we packed up and prepared to leave. Still, it was over an hour before we took off. The area was so beautiful I hardly cared. I took this opportunity to look around and enjoy the scenery. We even spotted a bear grazing in the meadows beneath the trail. Cool! But, walking behind an 8-year old was taking its toll on me. Rushing forward, then stopping every 10 seconds for no apparent reason, taking snack breaks at least 4 times an hour, and making funny noises just pushed every button I had. I jumped ahead of the crew once we got to the edge of the Sahale Arm and waited for them at Cascade Pass. There I chatted with some other hikers and tried to stomp on a critter scoping the area for dropped crumbs. We stuck together through the rocky section just beyond the pass, but as soon as it was time to stop AGAIN I made a break for it and finished the trip down on my own.


Forbidden Peak

It was nice to have some space to breathe and get lost in my own thoughts. As I turned one switchback after another, I drew little images in the dirt to amuse the child who was hopefully following close behind. I hoped that it would break up some of the monotony for him. It’s hard enough for big people do climb mountains; I could only imagine that it would feel like a huge undertaking for a child.

Overall, Sahale is big bang for the buck climbing. It’s mostly a hike, with a little bit of mild snow climbing and a short rock climb. Incredible views make this a five star trip. Go during the week for the best chance to get a permit or make it a day climb to avoid the permitting hassle.

Gear: 50 m rope, crampons/axe, light alpine rack to 1″, long runners

Pamelia Lake and Grizzly Peak

July 26, 2012.

Pamelia Lake Trail > Grizzly Peak Trail and back

10 miles | 2700′ ele. gain | 4 hours walk time + 2 hours lazy time

I took my first and last visit to the Pamelia Lake area today. See, I had to stop at the Detroit Ranger Station to pick up a limited entry permit. I called them the day before, thinking it would be easy to grab a mid-week permit. I was right. This year, they’re free and available up to 30 days in advance from the Ranger Station. Next year, the permits are only available online, and they come with a $6 processing fee attached. Yeah, Forest Service, nice way to stick us with a fee. So, I’m glad I sneaked in this year without having to buy my way in.

The hike into the lake was pleasant and pretty mellow. At the junction just before the lakeshore I ran into two older gentlemen out for a day hike. They were also pleasant and pretty mellow.

A sharp turn to the left brought me to a noticeably rougher trail and a stream that completely covered any vestige of footpath. I took off my socks and shoes to wade in the comfortably cool, ankle to knee-deep water. On the other side I dried off my feet, re-shoed, and headed up.

Yes, now it seemed the trail would go up. As I switchbacked along the trail, my mind was set adrift. Each foot continued to land in front of the other, but I paid no mind to the effort. It was that blissful state only to be achieved alone in the woods walking with just my own thoughts for company. Before I knew it, I stood atop this pretty summit, with glorious views of Mt. Jefferson to enjoy.

I was well prepared for a casual day on the trail. I took my shoes off, ate lunch and dove into a mindless, easy to read novel. I sat in the shade to avoid overheating in the direct sun. And when I grew hungry again I devoured a leftover birthday cupcake, not before taking a photo ala pdxgene.

When I was ready, I cruised back down to the lake and continued along the shore to find a place to take a dip. There was one family splashing about in the lake, but no one else that I could tell. The older guys were heading out as I headed in. So, I walked until I was out of earshot of the family, dropped my pack and got in the water. It was so delightfully cold! It was equally delightfully filled with pinkish jelly-blobs that must have been filled with some kind of eggs. I ignored the blobs and focused on the loss of feeling in my lower extremities, and decided it was time to sit in the sun on the beach. I took the book out again, but then decided on a nap.

I was rudely awakened by some clanging coming from my pack. Some squirrelly varmint had gotten into my bag of carefully selected trail mix. Gasp! And, double gasp, it was my only supply of trail mix for the three day trip. Curse you, varmint.

I got my shoes on and hiked back out. It was only on the way out that I noticed I had to walk through a massive boulder field in the woods before the trail head. What’s the story here, I thought. A major flood? That little stream must have been enraged to toss that much rock around.

I must admit, Pamelia Lake was gorgeous and much less crowded than I anticipated. Maybe I’ll take one last trip out there later in the fall.

Mary’s Peak

July 13, 2012.

North Ridge Trail > summit > East Ridge Trail > Tie Trail > North Ridge

9.4 miles | ~2700′ ele. gain | 4.5 hrs.

A quick drive from Corvallis brought me to Mary’s Peak North Ridge trailhead. There were a few cars parked near the gate at the end of the road. I figured such a convenient trail would attract other people, even if it was a weekday. I encountered my first person not too far up the trail bombing down on a mountain bike. I think we both surprised each other. After he took off I settled back into a comfortable walk through the ugly, ugly forest. The understory was sparse, leaving me to gaze upon brown tree after brown tree with brown needles at my feet.

But all would change once I reached the parking area near the summit. I broke free of the brown to enter a vast concrete arena surrounded by bright, grassy meadows. The meadows were dotted with Columbia lilies, wallflowers, daisies and other colorful wildflowers. Butterflies dipped and fluttered among the blooms. A gravel road led me right up to the radio tower on the summit. From here, I could see Hood, Jefferson and all the central Cascade Volcanoes. I curled up in the grass and had lunch here, paying no attention to the various groups of people buzzing around up there.

For the descent I decided to make a loop out of it to minimize the time I’d have to spend on the North Ridge trail. It was a slightly longer but infinitely more beautiful walk. I zipped down a possibly unofficial trail that cut off some of the road walking and brought me right to a trail heading for the East Ridge. I walked with a broad meadow to my left and a pretty forest to my right. Once on the East Ridge trail, I lost a bunch of elevation over the next mile while enjoying a variety of wildflowers, including some big, purple irises. I passed several people on their way up and three mountain bikers loudly making their way down.

The next turn took me to the Tie Trail, which apparently does not see as much use as the popular East Ridge. The trail was brushier and I walked through countless spiderwebs. I did not see anyone on this trail. The rainbow of flowers continued as I identified coralroot, thimbleberry, columbine, monkeyflower and a million others that I didn’t know. There was even a bleeding heart in bloom!

But, alas, I started to notice that the brown was returning and I knew I was close to the junction. Once I spotted a bench among the trees I made my last turn onto the dreaded North Ridge Trail. The trail was mostly quiet, with the exception of one trail runner near the end of the trail. I leapt off of the trail when I heard him coming because I thought it was another pack of bikers. I was happy to see a person on foot and he seemed equally happy to be bouncing along towards his destination.

It was a nice way to spend half a day, but I think the next time I’ll be back will be when there’s enough snow on the ground to keep the bikers away. I don’t like sharing the trail with objects hurtling along at rapid speeds. I would highly recommend any trail but the North Ridge unless you’re purely looking for some exercise.

Granite Mountain Ridge, Idaho

June 21, 2012.

Flaming Rock TH > Banana Crag Turnoff > Granite Mountain Ridge, somewhere > gully northeast of Granite and back

8-9 miles? | 2000′ ele. gain? | 8 hours

I needed a Jess day. I had been climbing in the park for 5 days and I just wanted to go for a walk. Bingham’s City of Rocks climbing guide book included some hike suggestions in the introduction. The Granite Mountain ridgewalk appealed to me most, and I’d been ogling the distant skyline since I arrived at camp. There would be some bushwhacking involved, but I was sure the wide open views would make that easy enough to manage.

I set out from our campsite, adjacent to the Flaming Rock trailhead, around 8:30 in the morning. It was already warm and I knew it would be a hot day. I covered the trails quickly, stopping to photograph the pretty wildflowers and stay hydrated. When I arrived at a sign pointing to Beef Jello/Banana Crag, I knew I’d be saying adieu to trails for a while. I stayed on the climber’s path as long as it lasted, then followed a faint trail through the forest. Even though it angled northwest (instead of northeast, towards the ridge), I patiently followed the path. Eventually I figured I was heading too far west and picked through the forest. Soon after I came across a well-worn trail that was too good to be true. I had no idea how popular this hike was, so again I put my faith in this trail. It became obvious that it was taking me to another pass leading to a totally different part of the park. I got out my compass, scoured my surroundings for a break in the trees, and changed my direction.

I know I’ve learned my “no bushwhacking in shorts” lesson before, but for some odd reason I thought the desert would be kinder to my legs. This was not the case. Although the area reported an average of 12 inches of rain each year, the understory was remarkably dense. Every leaf, branch, thorn and bristle was razor sharp. Branches grew in tangled mats that were hard to avoid or brush out of the way. I knew I’d be donating a lot of blood today.

As I meandered along the ill-defined ridge, I savored the views south to the inner workings of the park and north to Graham Peak. My path alternated between navigating through the brushy forest and working my way up to rocky viewpoints. I did not feel like I was doing a ridge walk. Every pile of rocks I scrambled up on top just gave me a great view of how much elevation I’d have to lose to get to the next saddle. It was smarter to stay low and avoid the only enjoyable part of the walk. It was miserable. And now it was very hot.

At some point, I distinctly remember feeling close to the summit block of this beast. I also remember feeling even more closed in by dense trees, crumbly rock, and shrubs. Ugh. I trudged on at a snail’s pace, snapping all the face-high branches and ducking below the limbs that were too big. I’d climb up on some rocks that would dead end, then drop back into the unruly orchard from hell. This happened to me several times before I finally came to the summit block.

So I thought. I got to the top of this thing, and there was a large gap between the pile I was on and the true summit. Crap. I downclimbed to a few other points that left me with some very exposed 4th class scrambling to get just another 15-20 vertical feet to the top. Alone, this was not happening. The slab on the north side leading to the summmit looked promising, 5.0 or just a bit more, but it was really long and also exposed. A fall would certainly leave me dead at the bottom of the face. No thanks. Frustrated, but accepting of my non-summit, I ambled off to a flat and windy lunch spot where I sat and rested, drank lemonade, and ate lots of food.

The guidebook suggested finishing the ridge by descending Granite Mountain’s summit and walking around the north side of Stinefell’s Dome to connect with the climbing trail that led back down to the valley. I had scoped out this descent just a couple of days earlier so I knew the way. But I was SO done with bushwhacking that I wanted to get to open sagebrush country as quickly as possible. I began to follow the ridge east until I found an obvious gully leading downhill. I thrashed my way through the gully, which had some nice open areas and some really tight spots, until I popped out right onto a trail. Hoorah!

The sun was brutally hot here, with little breeze and no shade for miles. I didn’t care. I needed time to lick my wounds. Walking was incredibly easy now; I could let my brain and body run on autopilot for a while. Wanting to make a loop out of the whole ordeal, I chose different trails for the return trip for a change of scenery. I enjoyed looking at the cactus blooms the most, and was excited to find a rock that looked like a giant chickadee.

I kept an eye on my water supply, which was running low. I was overheating big time. Just about a mile from the trailhead, I plopped on the ground under a shade tree and recovered a bit before the last uphill stretch back to camp. There were lots of ups and downs on this trip, which was very tiring.

Stepping into camp marked the end of a long day. I was happy to take off my socks and shoes, scrub up with some soap and water, do crossword puzzles and watch birds fly among the trees. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this hike to anyone, for any reason, unless perhaps the entire ridge is covered with 20 feet of snow. Live and learn. The trails were great, but trekking off trail required some serious willpower. Next time, Granite Mountain, I’ll take the short way up and bring a partner with a rope.

Steins Pillar

October 23, 2011.

4 mi | 680′ ele. gain | 2.5 hr

Steins Pillar is a tall rock outcrop that towers above the forest in the Mill Creek Valley. I wanted to see this thing up close and personal and to explore more of the landscape in the Ochocos.

Right away, the hike leads through an expansive landscape with views of distant ridges. The views were somewhat obscured by smoke from the nearby prescribed burns. The Three Sisters poked their barely snowcapped heads above the forested ridgelines. My trail was rocky, dusty, and cut through pokey, yellow grass.

In a mere 20 minutes I had my first view of the pillar. Through the haze I could see its flat top above the trees. I reached the end of the developed trail and kept going. I walked all around the base of the pillar, looking for signs of climbing routes. There were shiny bolts, chalk marks and bits of old aid gear. It looked like fun!

I spent lots of time rambling around the pillar base and wandering about on the nearby rock outcrops that did not demand a climbing rope. I’ll have to come back another time to try and get up the more technical routes. No one else was out here, the scenery was beautiful, it felt like a nice place to take a second journey out to.

Eventually I retraced my steps to my dusty car for the ride back to reality. No worries, I’ll find myself out here again…

Yocum ridge hike

October 16, 2011.

Ramona Falls Tr > Yocum Ridge and back

16 mi | 3500′ ele. gain | 6 hr.

On this beautiful fall day, Sue and I set out to hike as high on Yocum Ridge as our little legs would take us. A blanket of low clouds hung overhead as we packed up to start hiking. Our walk began along the Sandy River, which was running pretty low at this time of year. A couple streams of water ran down a broad, rocky wash. I imagined how incredible this would look in the springtime after a storm, filled with raging snowmelt and rainfall.

ramona fallsWe crossed the river and headed up the gently sloping trail to the base of Ramona Falls. This is where most people call it a day. We, decidedly, are not like most people. Beyond the waterfall we found the junction with Yocum Ridge trail and started our ascent of the ridge. The clouds were still low but the vegetation looked pretty with its tinges of red and yellow colors.

As we climbed higher the clouds began to part and we were treated to wonderful views of Mt. Hood. The summit rocks were coated in snow and ice. Our pace slowed as we stopped to take one photo after the next. The mountain looked exceptionally impressive as it stood out from the friendly, green meadows below. We stopped about 8 miles from the car to sit down, have some food and enjoy the sunny vista in solitude. All that was left now was the walk back to the trailhead.

It’s always sad to turn your back on the mountain, but there’s joy in knowing you’ll be back again another day.

A long trek through the woods brought us back to the broad Sandy river plain. Now that the clouds had parted we could look back at Mt. Hood over the swath of sand and debris. The sun was still shining as we arrived at our car. A beautiful day in the mountains.

Middle Sister Climb

July 21- 22, 2011.

Pole Creek trail > Chambers Lakes trail > climber’s trail (?) > camp > summit via Hayden Glacier/ north ridge

See all the photos on Google Photos.

Getting a casual start from Portland, our team of three arrived at the Pole Creek trailhead around 2:30pm on Thursday afternoon. It was hot, and dry, as central Oregon tends to be. It was cool, overcast and drizzly when we left our beloved hometown in the morning. After a few minutes of packing and pre-hydrating, we set out on the well-graded Pole Creek trail.

We walked rather uneventfully for about 4 miles, where we began to look for the alleged climber’s trail towards Middle Sister. At about the time we thought we had to leave the trail, the ground became covered in large patches of snow. We lost the trail and began to hear the sound of a rushing creek; we’d gone too far. At that point we headed west, cross country, hoping to breach treeline and catch a glimpse of our climbing route. After a bit of walking we realized we were creeping up the southeast arm of North Sister, so we rerouted our track to head towards the Hayden Glacier. Somewhere below the glacier, in one of many patches of dirt and trees, we made our camp. We had walked for just over 3 hours. The sun was warm here, but the wind was whipping across the snow, so it felt cold. We positioned our tent in a semi-protected area near a small pool of water melting off the snowfield. We fired up the stove, ate a warm dinner, and filtered water for the next day. It was an early bedtime, since we planned to wake up at 3:30 for an early start.

The next day, we started up the rock-hard snow just before 4:30 am, by headlamp. We followed the tracks that Jeff had made the previous evening while scouting out the route. We could see other headlamps shining above us; we were not the only ones with this idea today. One step after another, we ascended the mellow snow slope, interrupted by one small rock band, and caught up to the climbers in front of us. It was an older guy and a young guide; we wished them well and continued to the Hayden Glacier. There, we roped up and continued along. Walking on the high ground allowed us to evade the crevasses splitting open on either side of us. The glacier walk was mellow and monotonous. It led us to the base of the north ridge of Middle Sister, where we unroped, ditched the rope and pickets, and continued up the rocky slopes.

As we crested the ridge and walked up the snowfield on the west side, we were blasted with wind. I added a few layers of warmth and wind-block to maintain a comfortable temperature. As we ascended, we were rewarded with spectacular views of the entire Cascade Range: North Sister, Mt. Washington, Three Fingered Jack, Jefferson and Hood extended north of us. To the south, Middle Sister and South Sister loomed large, with Broken Top just off to the east. We alternated walking on crumbly rock and firm snow. The climb was relatively mellow, save for one short section of steeper snow that required a bit more care to cross safely. Once above that spot, it was smooth sailing all the way to the summit.

The wind continued to batter us here, and there was no shelter to be found. We sat on the one bare, rocky spot and had some snacks while enjoying the sun and the scenery. The mountains and ridges were painted white with sinuous brushstrokes of snow. We departed with most of our layers on, knowing that within a few hours we’d be battling the heat on our walk off the mountain.

I was slightly concerned that descending the steep snow would be trickier than coming up but it was actually easier with the steps already made to follow. We were back to the base of the ridge in no time, where we roped up again and walked back towards camp. We passed the impressive-looking Prouty Pinnacle to our left, which had dropped some hefty rocks onto the snow in days past. We ogled the icefalls, rock formations, and crevasses along the Hayden Glacier and east face of Middle Sister to our right. And we looked up at the summit of North Sister, so close, and yet so agonizingly far away. I enjoyed the casual descent in the comforting sun. Eventually we unattached ourselves from rope and crampons and skidded down the sun-softened snow. We returned to camp less than 6 hours since we left it. With the heat of the sun now reaching our camp, we dried out our wet gear while re-fueling and packing up our stuff.

The walk out from camp to the Chambers Lakes trail was not incredibly straightforward. We were able to follow someone else’s tracks for a while, but we lost them once the snow turned to dry land. We navigated by compass in the general direction we needed to go, while keeping track of our approximate altitude and distance so we would be looking out for the trail. We complained for a short time about not being able to find it, which is precisely when we stumbled across some faded pink flagging and a log cut indicating a trail. Satisfied that we could now walk without thinking, we plodded along at a steady rate all the way to the trailhead. On our way back we passed by a solo hiker, a large group of Mazamas, and a couple with two horses and a dog.

I’m glad that I finally ticked Middle Sister off my to-do list. It was a fairly straightforward and mellow climb, with a huge bang-for-your-buck factor. It was a nice introduction to the Cascades for Brody, who is hopefully now bitten by the climbing bug. I’m now even more excited for my next climbs.

Angel’s Rest

February 26, 2011.

4.6 mi | 1500’ ele. gain | 3.5 hr.

I took Brody out on a classic Gorge hike today. Angel’s Rest is probably one of the most popular destinations near Portland. But on a cold winter day, it sees a lot fewer visitors. And, it’s for good reason: the trail is covered in snow and ice.

It all started out so straightforward and dry. A clear trail with the classic winter backdrop of leafless trees, brown everywhere, and views of the Columbia River. Soon, however, patches of ice perforated the flat, dirt trail surface. It was cold enough for water overflowing the footpath to freeze and create mini skating rinks. But with proper walking technique and the assistance of hiking poles we negotiated these sections without slipping and falling.

We crossed a cute little creek that had beautiful ice formations dangling from every little branch and stick that came near the water. The spray from the trembling waterfalls must coat the branches in the sub-freezing air. SO COOL!

Eventually our trail became more slippery and snowy so we took our time, especially crossing the talus and the final rock spine to the viewpoint. At the top, we gazed over the massive river, flowing beneath a ceiling of dense clouds. The tops of all the gorge peaks were dusted with snow. Yes, another lovely winter day.

By 1 pm we were already back at the trailhead, the whole afternoon in front of us. Perhaps we’ll sneak out to see some icy waterfalls next…