Tag Archives: hike366

Kentucky Falls

September 30, 2015.

6 mi. | 800′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

The drive to the trailhead for this hike was probably the most adventurous part…

To find this remote series of waterfalls, it was necessary to negotiate a network of poorly marked (or unmarked) logging roads. It was an exercise in following directions precisely! I was by myself, had no cell service and was miles from any civilization, so you can imagine my relief when I pulled into the parking area. Sigh, I made it.

The Kentucky Falls trail was a thin ribbon of brown dirt enclosed by a lush, coastal forest. There was greenery everywhere: trees climbing towards the sky, lichen dangling from every available branch, mosses and ferns blanketing the ground and shrubs squeezing through the soil in search of sunlight. It was a magical, fairyland forest.

Quiet, too. Not surprisingly, there were no other cars out here today. I was truly alone in the woods. A feeling I enjoy but don’t get to experience too often.

The river was absolutely beautiful. Moss-covered boulders lay strewn throughout the water. Newts, slugs, snails and bugs crawled about the forest. This was a place full of life and color.

In just under an hour of walking, I arrived at the epic viewpoint with two lovely waterfalls pouring down steep, rocky cliffs. I wasn’t alone here; there was a massive colony of millipede-looking bugs on nearly every surface they could cover.

At first I just saw a few. Okay, no big deal. But then, hundreds. Thousands. Squirming, writhing, being bugs. It is so bizarre to me how a few of a thing can be cool and interesting but thousands of the same thing is horrifying and disgusting. Besides bunnies, maybe. Thousands of bunnies in a big bunny pile? Probably still cute.

I stood there for a while, angling for all the perspectives I could get of the two waterfalls, while avoiding the throbbing masses of millipedes.

But I didn’t just come here for an hour of hiking. I decided to press on a bit further. I continued on the North Fork trail past the waterfalls and into an even lusher, richer world. The path felt a bit more rugged and closed in here. In places, huge fallen tree stumps were covered in moss, creating tall green walls on the side of the trail. I pushed through curtains of dangling lichen as if I was entering a mystical temple.

And then, mushrooms. So many mushrooms! The diversity in this short stretch of trail was astonishing. Oh, Oregon coast range, you never disappoint.

But the final gem had yet to be discovered. I walked a bit further and caught a glimpse of the river through the thick trees. I continued until I found an easy way to get down to the river. And there I found paradise.

The flowing water had carved bowls, pools, potholes and cliffs into the bedrock beneath the river. It was unreal. I wandered around, walking from rock to rock, observing all the shapes and patterns carved into the rock. The gentle flow of the water created a lovely background of white noise. No one else was around. I felt like I’d stumbled into a private sanctuary. True bliss. I scouted out a resting spot and there I sat, taking it all in, savoring this time and place, alone in the river.

Nature is powerful. This was a particularly moving place for me. I was tempted to never share pictures, never write about it, never draw attention to it. But alas, here I am. Years later I still distinctly remember being here. There is something to be said about the feeling of discovering your own special place. Nothing in the book or Internet write-up mentioned the magic of this spot. Perhaps that was a good thing.

My only hope is that people who come here leave with the same sense of wonder and joy that I did. That they refrain from carving their names into trees, stacking rocks, leaving trash, building fires or any other thing that people seemingly like to do. Just let it be, so someone else can be captivated by its un-scarred beauty.

Feather Falls

March 9, 2018.

Feather Falls Loop | 8 mi | 1870′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

I found Feather Falls in a Northern California hiking book. I had to drive to Sacramento for a weekend event, so I decided to tack on an extra day and do some hiking. The book rated Feather Falls as a “3” difficult level but “10” for scenery. Sounded like a plan to me. The description noted, however, that the trail was once a loop but now an out-and-back route due to some trail damage. The out-and-back would be 9 miles, but since it was pretty flat and easy going I figured I could tackle it in under 4 hours.

I camped for the night at the trail head camping area, a free, walk-in tent site in the forest. It was very convenient to roll out of my tent in the morning and walk right up to the trail. I had forgotten to pack any hiking pants so I put on my sweats, hugged my thermos of tea and started up the trail. There was no indication of any closure up ahead so I was excited to be able to do a loop hike.

The path was wide, well-worn and well-graded. There was a disappointing number of plastic water bottles tossed on the side of the trail. I can’t believe people are still actually buying those things.

I sipped my tea as I wandered up the trail, enjoying all the unusual plants of the northern California forest. Everything looked similar to Oregon’s flora but just different enough to make me feel like I was on a movie set. There were fir-like trees, madrone-like shrubberies and ferns that were just a little off.  The occasional mushroom, flower, or newt splashed color on the otherwise brown and drab landscape.

About a half hour up the trail I reached a pretty waterfall on Frey Creek. The water tumbled down beautiful granite slabs, with lush green moss growing on either side.

Not 15 minutes later I approached a viewpoint of Bald Rock Dome, a mini-Half-Dome right across the valley. This striking granite rock face apparently has some “old-school” climbing routes on it, but today was not about climbing for me. I admired it, wiped the drool from my mouth and continued on.

Signs along the trail kept me both entertained and informed. One warned of poison oak, which apparently grew everywhere (but I didn’t see any).

I reached a new-ish looking trail sign that pointed towards the falls and headed in that direction. The trail looked like it was paved long ago but was now pretty eroded and worn away. Shooting star grew along the trail. More views opened up. The anticipation was building.

Suddenly I could hear the water’s roar. I sped up, following the eroded trail to a wooden viewing platform with a front-row seat at the falls. Feather Falls, according to the signs, was the 6th largest waterfall in the contiguous U.S. and the 4th highest in California. It has a bit of an identity crisis, as the trailhead sign marks it at 640′ tall and the Internet calls it 410′ tall. Besides, a quick search of “tallest waterfalls in California” shows that it doesn’t even rank in the top ten. Despite the number, it was an impressive waterfall. I enjoyed a good 20 minutes here, looking at the panoramic views and appreciating the solitude.

I returned to the “falls” sign and headed towards the other half of the loop. Again, there was no indication that the trail was impassable so I went that way knowing that I might have to backtrack if I encountered a sketchy section.

The sun finally peeked through the clouds. The warmth felt good on my skin. I negotiated a few washed out sections of trail but otherwise the other side of the loop was totally passable. It did have a different character: it was steeper, narrower and more rugged. I’m sure most visitors simply did the out-and-back. But doing the loop at least shaved off a mile, so I was back to the car in just over three hours. Plenty of time to make it to Sacramento and take a nap before I had to be presentable.

Feather Falls lived up to its expectations, well, except for the height. The trail was lovely. The waterfall was mesmerizing. And the early morning solitude was well-worth the early wake up.

Lava Beds for Thanksgiving

November 22-26, 2017.

View all the photos from this trip here.

With forecasts for unseasonably warm and wet weather all across the west, we decided to head south to a not-terribly-well-known National Monument for our Thanksgiving weekend escape this year.

The drive down to Lava Beds is just a few hours from Bend. We arrived after dark and pulled into the campground there. There were two loops; one was nearly full and the other was (inexplicably) empty. So we chose the best site on the empty loop.

The next morning we drove to the visitor’s center to pick up our free cave permit and gather information about entering the caves. I’d been here once, a long time ago, but my caving experience was rather limited. We spoke with the rangers for awhile and left satisfied that we had all the information we needed to have a fun time in the caves.

Cave Loop

On the first day of Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to hit all the open caves on the cave loop (with the exception of Catacombs). The park brochure provided basic information about each cave, including its length and a difficulty rating. They were similar to ski run ratings: green dot for easy, blue square for moderate, black diamond for challenging. We started with a black diamond cave because it was the first one on the loop! Thunderbolt Cave. After donning our helmets and headlamps we took our last breath of above-ground air and descended a metal staircase into the darkness.

There were a few differences between walking on earth and walking underneath it. First, it was quiet. SO quiet. Second, it was disorienting. When I could only see just a little ways in front of me it was difficult to retain any sense of direction or distance. Third, it felt spooky. Okay, I think I’m pretty resilient and have dealt with quite a lot of lousy adventure situations in my life. But this felt different. Monsters lived in caves, right? And did we turn down this passageway or that passageway? Shit!

Without a map or visibility beyond a few yards, navigation was difficult. I felt that little knot in my throat at one point wondering how we were going to get back out again. Great, we got lost in our first cave. But we soon remembered a landmark and soon saw that refreshing beam of sunlight coming down from the outside. Phew! We’d have to be a little more careful in the other caves. This was a wake-up call right from the outset. Nice job, Lava Beds, on not dumbing down the caves with lights and navigation arrows. I’ll take this more seriously now.

Next, Golden Dome. This one was recommended by the ranger. As we walked deeper and deeper into the cave, I’d exclaim: I found the golden dome! There was a hydrophobic bacteria on the cave ceiling that looked like gold flakes when it was coated with beads of water. It was amazing! But then I’d walk into the next room and say, no here it is! There was so much of it! As the trip wore on we’d discover this bacteria living in most of the caves. Why this one was singled out as the golden dome I’m not so sure. Other caves also had spectacular displays of this coloration.

Then, Hopkins Chocolate. There were some low sections that required stooping and creative crawling so that we didn’t tear up our pants. In this one rare instance, I wished I would have been wearing an old pair of jeans.

On to the Blue Grotto and lots more crawling. We popped up through a few skylights and ended up wandering into Labyrinth Cave somehow. The only way we knew was that We’d found a metal staircase leading up into the light, plus a trail register in a PVC pipe with the cave name listed. Knowing that Labyrinth Cave was closed we decided to hightail it out of there. We wandered up through an unmarked cave opening and walked cross-country back to the car, being careful not to fall into any unmarked skylights!

Next up: Ovis, Paradise Alley, Sunshine. We were racking up caves left and right.

At Natural Bridge we got to do a little surface walking. Then it was back underground at Indian Well Cave. I was feeling a bit of cave fatigue.

Finally, Mushpot Cave. This was the only developed cave on the cave loop, which was made obvious by the sounds of screaming children that got louder and louder as we approached. Lucky for us, they were finishing up their cave activity and we got to have it to ourselves. It felt so plush and luxurious after being in the undeveloped caves all day.

Last cave of the day: Valentine Cave. I was so ready to be done. I would have appreciated this more in the beginning of the day. We could mostly walk upright in the spacious chambers. The main passageway looked like a subway tunnel. But I wanted to be back at camp, building a fire and making dinner.

That night we feasted on roast turkey and our favorite sides: gravy, squash puree, green beans, etc. Plus a marionberry pie and freshly made ice cream. Oh I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Big Nasty Trail and Hidden Valley

The next morning we rolled out of the tent with full bellies and headed out for a full day of exploration. We stopped into the visitor’s center again, this time to purchase a book of maps for the caves. After our first experienced of feeling disoriented I knew I’d be happier with a map.

But first, hiking. I was itching for a real hike and the Big Nasty Trail was high on my list. How big and nasty could it be?

We began walking under chilly, overcast skies. A short, paved trail led to a viewpoint of Mammoth Crater. This looked exactly as it sounded. A steep-sided crater with lava rock walls lay before us, so big that it was hard to get it all into one photo. From there we sauntered out on the Big Nasty Trail, named for the conditions of the nearby lava flow. The trail itself, however, was lovely. Pebbles and sand made of pumice lay underfoot. This soft surface felt nice after scrambling over lava blocks in the caves the day before. The landscape was very open and beautiful. While it looked very similar to the high desert near our home in Bend, there was a surprising amount of lichen and moss covering the vegetation. Mountain mahogany grew alongside the more familiar Ponderosa pine and juniper trees.

We returned from the loop and hopped on the Hidden Valley trail just across the street. It led a quarter mile out to a viewpoint of the Hidden Valley. This depression in the landscape was filled with Ponderosa pines all lined up as if planted in rows. It would make for a fun scramble down on another day. We had some caving to do.

Heppe Cave

Onward ho! To Heppe Cave. A short trail led to this short cave with towering ceilings. There was a little pool of dirty water at the bottom. In fact the hike out there and the nearby Heppe Chimney were more interesting than the cave itself. Or maybe I just felt a little grumpy about the cave because I slipped on the wet rocks several times there. I did not wear the best shoes for rock-hopping.

Merrill Cave

A picnic table outside the entrance to Merrill Cave was a great place to sit and have lunch. As we ate, a few families exited the cave, got in their cars and left. Ours was the only one remaining, so that meant it was time to explore the cave! We’d been extraordinarily lucky in our adventures so far. There were a few people out and about but we almost never crossed paths with anyone inside of a cave. We passed a few folks entering as we were leaving and vice versa, but otherwise the caves were our own personal hideaways. We felt like explorers for nearly the entire trip.

Like Heppe cave, Merrill Cave had a history of harboring perennial ice. But today, without much ice these caves were far less interesting than they must have been in the past. Good thing we didn’t bring our ice skates. Metal stairways and catwalks led to a gated viewpoint of where the ice used to be. How, so…anticlimactic.

Balcony and Boulevard Caves

It was finally time to pull out the map book! Our last stop was the trailhead for Balcony and Boulevard Caves. These were both listed as “moderately challenging” in our cave guide. We first wandered into Balcony Cave. There was no indicator at the entrance which one this was, but there was a feature that resembled a balcony right near the cave opening. So that was our best guess.

We walked under a heart-shaped skylight and explored the various tunnels and nooks, trying to locate ourselves on the cave map. While I felt pretty comfortable with my navigation skills, I felt like a total newbie in deciphering the cave maps.

We wandered back up, enjoyed the insane clouds for a moment, and then descended into Boulevard Cave. The map looked SO SIMPLE. Any idiot should have been able to figure it out. But I was struggling to match up what I saw in front of me with what was drawn on the map. To test our map skills further, we decided to try one more thing…

Sharks Mouth

On the same page as Balcony and Boulevard, we noticed Shark’s Mouth Cave. With a name like that, how could we possibly go back to camp without looking for that first? There was no developed entrance but based on the information in the book it should have been well within our reach.

Out came the map and compass and we walked slowly in the direction where we believed one of the entrances would be. One led into an 8 foot tall chamber, so we figured it would be easy enough to find.

While it was not “easy,” we eventually found an entrance to the cave and ducked inside. It was a valuable activity to practice using the map inside the cave. I started feeling a little more confidence with this skill. We noticed the shark’s teeth formations and crawled into the shark’s mouth.

Success! Yay! Emerging from the cave just before sunset, we decided to call it a day and drove back to camp.

Catacombs

Armed with the map book and the knowledge of how to use it, we felt ready to test our skills in the Catacombs.

According to the rangers, people can spend upwards of FOUR HOURS exploring the network of tunnels inside the Catacombs cave system. That’s a lot of time underground! Looking at the map, I guessed we’d be able to see about half of it without needing to squeeze into a 2 foot tall slot. That’s not for me.

And so, we packed a small bag with the essentials for a jaunt through the Catacombs.

As we walked through the cave we referred back to the map frequently, identifying marked points of interest and learning how to interpret the markings in the book. This cave had multiple levels, which were not always easy to figure out on the map. We climbed up and scrambled down, took lefts and rights, investigated small cul-de-sacs and squirmed through tight passages. I used all the crawling techniques I knew and invented a few more. It felt like a real adventure! But the really small spaces didn’t appeal to me, and we turned back right where I thought we would. No matter, we spent nearly two hours in the cave and got to see a bunch of cool places.

I had no idea “wilderness” like this existed in the National Parks System, and I was thrilled that this existed as a public resource without handrails, paved floors or a bunch of red tape to get inside. At the entrance of each developed cave there was a standard sign with a bunch of warnings that no one ever reads, and then you’re on your own. Awesome.

First thing I had to do after getting outside of the cave was water a tree!

Skull Cave, Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave

There were three more caves to tick off the list and all could be reached from the campground on a 5-ish mile hike. We drove back to camp, ate lunch and then set off on foot to tackle the final caves. It was a nice walk on trails through the sunny, high desert landscape to the parking lot of Skull Cave. This easy, short cave was reached via a long stairway down into complete darkness. This was another one of those “there used to be ice here!” caves which was not terribly exciting to explore. Since it was marked easy in the book there were also a number of other visitors here.

Next we walked up to the access trail for Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave. The walk, again, was the highlight of this visit. We saw a pika on the rocks and enjoyed the sunny skies above us. Symbol Bridge had some (shockingly) non-vandalized cave painting remaining from Native Americans who’d lived here eons ago. But the juniper tree growing right over the entrance was probably my favorite feature. At Big Painted Cave, very little Native American markings remained today but it used to be a spiritual place for the former inhabitants.

The walk back was a treat. A nice way to cap off a weekend of new adventures. Halfway back to the camp, we stumbled upon a couple of deer on our path. Aaron spotted them first and we both stopped to watch them amble through. Delightful.

I would go back to Lava Beds National Monument in a heartbeat. There’s more to explore. Labyrinth Cave, Hercules Leg, Sentinel, Lava Brook and Juniper Cave were all closed for hibernating bats. Fern Cave, accessible only by tour group in the summer time, was also closed. Plus there was a ton of land we didn’t even come close to exploring. And in a cold snap, the ice sculptures that form inside the cave would be worth the visit. I was glad to have had the chance to get to this special place in 2017 and hope it remains protected, and wild, for decades to come.

Kelso Dunes

April 6, 2017.

3 mi. | 650′ ele. gain | 2 hrs.

I arrived at the Kelso Dunes Parking area at 5:30 pm with the intention of enjoying sunset from the expansive dune field. The dunes lie within the Mojave National Preserve in southern California. Miraculously, these dunes are not open to off-road vehicles, creating a little haven for hikers who want to explore the sand on foot.

Having done a few night hikes on sand dunes before, I looked forward to the cooler weather, diminished crowds and sense of solitude that an evening hike would bring. There were a few other parties out on the dunes but most were wrapping up their day.

I put my shoes in my backpack and set off on the trail heading towards the dunes. Gray clouds cast a moody glow over the massive piles of sand. On either side of me, gorgeous flowers bloomed in purple and yellow. “Look what we can do!” they seemed to shout. I was in no rush, so enjoyed each little splash of color that caught my eye.

Once I reached the open sand, footprints went every which way. There was no marked trail here, just an open invitation to explore the dunes. I plodded up the steep and slippery sand, feeling the ground move under my feet with each step. As I climbed higher the views got better and better. The setting sun began to cast brilliant colors across the landscape. “Look what I can do!” the sun said.

All along the way I kept noticing these weird tracks in the sand. What made them? A snake? I couldn’t really tell. Something was working harder than me to cross this desolate landscape.

I reached a ridge leading to the highest dune and walked methodically towards the summit. There was a group of people taking videos and goofing around up there. Fortunately for me they were packing up just as I was arriving.

Sitting atop the dunes, I was stunned at what I saw. Mountain ranges in every direction. The sun setting underneath a blanket of clouds. It was like sitting in the middle of a painting, hearing onlookers say, “ugh, that is so not real.”

And then a visitor arrived. It was the same critter that made the tracks I’d seen earlier. A beetle! And it was heading straight for me. Luckily, it was just as hard for the beetle to move quickly on the sand as it was for me, so he approached slowly. I picked up and moved so as not to be in his path. He shifted trajectory. What the?? This beetle had it out for me. I stood up and walked around a little, noticing all the shadows, all the features, all the beauty that was laid out in front of me. Incredible.

Before the sun had the chance to set, I headed downhill. My goal was to get back to the car before dark. No problem, as getting down the sand dune was far easier than getting up!

I turned to look back at the bright sun dropping behind the biggest dune. And up ahead, primrose flowers began to open. What a sight. At dusk, I reached the trailhead and brushed the sand off my feet. A spectacular end to an adventurous day.

Clear Lake and Snowy Waterfalls

February 1, 2017.

9.2 mi | 600′ ele. gain | 6.5 hr

This winter has been something else. Planning trips has been challenging due to the snow conditions on the roads and the trails. Plus, I’m still adjusting to my new home and figuring out where to go locally. Today’s trek brought me and a friend to Clear Lake, Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls. Looking through my maps and guidebooks, I patched together a route I thought would go.

We parked at the Ikenick Sno-Park and crossed the highway to the Clear Lake Resort. I knew there was a trail that went all the way around the lake. We decided to head south, along the lake’s western shore, to join up with the McKenzie River trail. There were only a few glimpses of the lake from the trail, which was somewhat disappointing. When we reached the southern outlet of the lake we picked up the new trail, crossed the road and headed towards the waterfalls.

A wooden footbridge crossed the McKenzie River. Snow was piled on top of the bridge to the height of the handrails. We moved carefully across on our snowshoes to the other side. This is where the real adventure began. The tracks all but disappeared and we set off in a dense, dark forest along the river. The snow covered the trail so we were sidehilling on a slippery surface, with drop-offs down to the raging river.

I breathed a sigh of relief when we made it to Carmen Reservoir. The footing was much more gentle and flat here. And on this side of the river the trail was broken out. At least we did the difficult half first. We ambled along the river, stopping to enjoy the tremendous views of the river and falls. Sahalie Falls was particularly memorable. The cold air had transformed the waterfall spray into magical ice formations. Frozen drops of water clung to the needles in the trees. Layers of frozen snow created abstract shapes near the river. It was a movie-set landscape, too good to be true. It was a nice place to stop and have some food. What a pretty sight.

We followed the trail back to Clear Lake. Suddenly, it wasn’t so clear where to go. We had to find the other segment of the trail, the part that went along the eastern shore. Wandering around, we stumbled across a sign and set off on the lake’s edge. This side of the trail was much more scenic than the other side. There were beautiful viewpoints over the lake. Neuron-like shapes were frozen into the lake’s surface. The air was so quiet.

As we wrapped around the north side of the lake, there was again a bit of confusion. Where would we cross the creeks? Were there bridges? Signs? Did we miss something? Would we have to cross on our own?

No, we just had to keep walking for another 5 minutes or so. The trail was right there.

On the final stretch back to the resort we came across two people taking a short jaunt from the cabin. We knew we were close then!

Winter presents its challenges, but not without its rewards. The extra hard work, uncertainty and routefinding enabled us to see a unique landscape covered in snow and ice. And solitude at Clear Lake? Unheard of. I won’t be back this summer, but perhaps I’ll venture out here the next time we’re in a deep freeze.

Four-in-One-(Sno)-Cone

October 19, 2016.

Scott Trail > Four-in-One-Cone

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

Photo album

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

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

Looked like a death trap.

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

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

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

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

Can you see the trail junction?

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

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

BEAR.

Fresh bear tracks.

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

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

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

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

Snowy lava

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

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

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

Four-in-One-Cone

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

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

A message from the gods?

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

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

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

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

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

Pretty water droplets

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

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

Shipwreck Beach and more…

May 30, 2016.

Before taking off for our Hawaii vacation, I did a little research. Well, I did a lot of research. And that included a trip to the local library.

There, I found an old Hawaii hiking guidebook (randomly), so I eagerly leafed through the pages. One of the hikes mentioned an exploration of the shoreline near Shipwreck Beach. I poked around in other books and websites looking to corroborate this information. I also checked out the satellite view in Google maps to get a better sense of the lay of the land. It looked like there was a lot of potential here, so we drove into Po’ipu to check it out.

After driving down some gravel roads and finding a place to park, we headed coast-ward and surveyed the land. There was a lot of rock immediately in front of us, but a pretty inviting beach to our left. We made a beeline for the beach and took our shoes off.

The beach was also popular with the locals. Of the monk seal variety. We gave them plenty of space as we sauntered by. Otherwise it was mostly quiet along our walk. There were fishermen and other beach-goers in certain areas, but we also enjoyed long stretches in solitude. The teal-green ocean crashed into the rocky points along the shore, demonstrating the incredible power of the sea.

After crossing the beach we reached a green meadow with a lightly trampled path heading towards the headland in front of us. We followed the path and found another, smaller beach, with waves pounding the surrounding rocks. We scrambled around on the rocks, called it our turnaround point, and had a snack.

On our return walk I couldn’t believe the colors, as they looked like they’d come right out of a brand new crayon box. So bright and crisp!

We made it all the way back to where we started and just kept walking. The trail crossed between the sea cliffs and a golf course, so we watched the air for flying golf balls and watched our feet so we wouldn’t slip into the ocean. Beyond the golf course we crossed a lichen-encrusted rock field and then found a packed trail leading through the trees. At the end of the trail, a beach! Shipwreck Beach!

There’s no ship wreck here today but there’s a resort and a boat load of people. Kind of a disappointing place to end up. After another snack break we retreated along the coast, back to where the car was parked. It was a fun adventure, mostly far from the busy trails, and we got fairly good weather to boot. It took us a little over 5 hours to complete our journey, a solid way to spend a good chunk of a vacation day.

North Bank Ranch

March 13, 2016.

On a cold and blustery day, I headed south to North Bank Ranch. It’s hike #1 in William Sullivan’s 100 Hikes in Southern Oregon (the purple book). I followed the directions for the 6.9-mile loop. Not a soul to be seen all day.

At the trailhead, I was greeted by an unusual sign on a rusty barrel: “NBHMA DEER KIDNEY SAMPLES.” Awesome! I hoped it wasn’t deer season. Funny, seeing as how this was set aside as a preserve for deer. Lure them in and then shoot them, I guess. I don’t know how this hunting thing works.

The hike began through meadows surrounded by oak trees. The open meadows offered no protection from the strong winds blowing across the landscape. They did, however, provide dramatic views over the green, grassy hills. The air was thick with clouds and drizzle. Beads of water coated everything in sight, including my glasses. So much for sight.

I climbed up and over South Knob, then Middle Knob, which were just bumps on a ridge. Then I descended into a forest. The trail followed an old road, which was very muddy and rutted. I slipped and slid downhill, my boots and outerwear completely soaked. The vegetation was pretty. So much green! Moss, Oregon Grape, other stuff I couldn’t identify. There was some old farm equipment positioned just so along the trail. And a cute little stream: Chasm Creek, which had water today but was noted as seasonal.

The weather was far from perfect, but I had a nice little walk in solitude, with a beautiful backdrop and some real spring conditions. Not a bad way to spend a day, even if it did involve lots of driving!

Spencer Butte plus

March 7, 2016.

8.8 mi | 1000′ ele. gain | 2:45 hr.

Today’s adventure included Spencer Butte, among other things. Spencer Butte is something of a Eugene landmark, crawling with visitors from sunrise to sunset. But it’s a short trail to the top and I wanted something more. I pulled into the Blanton Ridge Trailhead after 2:30 pm to start my hike from there.

I followed the gorgeous and nearly empty Ridgeline Trail towards Spencer Butte, reveling in mid-day sunshine and pretty green leaves all around me. The trail was well-defined and obviously well-loved, muddy in places but totally passable. I cruised along the ridgeline, passing by a sign indicating the summit of the trail, then descending towards the Willamette Street trailhead. A short road walk and road crossing brought me to the east side of the trail and the gentle climb up the north ridge of the butte. I could tell when I was approaching the closer trailheads because I started to hear and see people. Ah, well, the solitude wasn’t going to last forever.

The summit felt like a bit of a zoo but it was nice up there. Thunder clouds loomed in the distance and I was grateful that they were way over there. Still, I wanted to get back in a dry state so after a brief but enjoyable mountaintop respite I headed back down.

I savored the views of a handful of early spring wildflowers as well as the cool-looking fungi clinging to the trees. Lichen draped off of every oak branch. It was a delightful spring day. As the sun fell closer and closer to the horizon, I reached my car around 5:15 pm. Not a bad way to spend the afternoon in Eugene.

Brandenburg Loop Snowshoe

February 27, 2016.

6 mi | 300′ ele. gain | 4:15 hrs.

I had been trying to lead hikes for the Mazamas from lowly Corvallis. It was only kind of working. I started out choosing locations that were somewhat mutually convenient to Portlanders and those of us in the valley. But these places soon ran out and I focused instead on leading things I wanted to do. Thus, I landed on the Brandenburg Loop for an easy snowshoe.

My two takers were people I’d met through my business endeavors and fun ladies, to boot. We took off on a gray and dreary day from the Ray Benson Sno Park, which already had several vehicles parked there (including some school buses!).

We snowshoed on tracked out, packed snow, following the South Loop route. About halfway through the loop we reached the Brandenburg Shelter, a three-sided wooden warming hut with a wood stove. It was still stocked up with wood so we made a fire and settled in for lunch.

We retreated back to the parking lot, wondering what everyone who’d parked at the lot was doing, as we hardly saw anyone along the trail. Perhaps they were on snowmobiles. Yuck.

I didn’t attract the big crowds for this one but it would be a bit of a haul from Portland to do this mediocre snowshoe route. I’ll have to get creative in planning future hikes from Corvallis.