Observation Peak

June 17, 2007.

Tr. #133 – Trapper Creek Tr. #192 – Howe Ridge Tr. | 14 mi (?) | 3200′ ele. gain | 8:00 hr.

The Trapper Creek Wilderness is a small, less-than-popular hiking destination not 1 hour from Portland, on the other side of the Columbia River. Kevin and I planned on getting some sweet Cascade views after a mellow, pleasant walk through Old-Growth forest today.

I should be smart enough to know by now that things rarely turn out the way you plan them.

After driving in circles from our campsite in the poorly signed Government Mineral Springs camping area, we parked the car near Bubbling Mike Spring. We both tasted the water pumped up from the spring, and I had the awful pleasure of swallowing that metallic, carbonated water to begin the day. Yum. There was a gate blocking the road beyond the parking area, which did not make sense with our map or hiking book directions. We walked around the gate and up the narrowing dirt road. Soon we cam across a washed out bridge which had temporarily been repaired to allow the passage of walkers. On either side of the road we spotted cabins, each looking in need of upkeep, each displaying some sort of “WANTED” or “REWARD” sign in the window. I would have inspected the structures more closely but the whole place creeped me out and we hadn’t even started our hike yet.

We spotted a trailhead with a wilderness register up ahead so I filled out the permit and we went on our way. I left the forest service a friendly reminder to mark their trails since there was absolutely no indication what trail we were walking on from the start.

Very soon into the hike we got bored and Kevin dared me to shout something unsavory very loudly, to which I happily obliged. My shouting was responded to by dogs barking, and we saw a man walking from his woodsy cabin less than ten minutes from that dare. He had two dogs with him and he didn’t look too nice so we kept on walking.

Another 10 minutes up the trail, we really wanted to verify the trail we were on but there was no signage to be found. We crossed a small stream and encountered another man, standing alone at the top of a hill. He was staring at us and rolling a cigarette. He had no backpack or water or any supplies with him.

“Hey, do you know what trail this is?” We cheerily asked. He mumbled something about a sign up ahead near a bridge, and that he was looking for “the lake” but he hadn’t found it yet. “Where’d you get that map?” he asked me. I replied that I’d gotten it at REI–I had the nice, waterproof wilderness map in my hand. I then had to explain that REI was a store, as he’d no idea what I was talking about. The creepy factor rose exponentially with every minute we stood there so Kevin and I moved for a quick exit. We were relieved to find the trail sign of which the weird woodsman spoke, and we proceeded to the junction with the Trapper Creek trail.

Soon, we left the crazies behind and became immersed in a lush forest of huge, old evergreens towering over a blanket of delicate wildflowers and ferns. Suddenly there were signs everywhere we looked. Not only were junctions clearly marked, but miscellaneous trees along the trail nowhere near a landmark or intersection were adorned with clear signs. Some had cryptic messages, such as “Ici! B&B.”

We took a faint side path through heavy blowdown to reach Hidden Creek Falls, a pretty little waterfall pummeling storm debris. We also caught a glimpse of the dramatic Trapper Creek Falls, a voluminous stream of water pouring down solid rock slab across a deep chasm created by the creek. We could now clearly see our objective: a tree-covered bump almost directly across the chasm. Although skies were crystal clear the previous night, the weather was not cooperating today.

As we triumphantly followed the trail out of the woods and into a beautiful meadow, we stopped to add rain layers and stood atop the glorious, viewless summit of Observation Peak. The fog and mist was so thick that we could barely see anything around us. On a good day we would be basking in the shadows of Rainier, St. Helens, Hood and Adams. Not today. We proceeded in the direction the trail appeared to go on the map, had to reassess our situation, and then headed back down the trail to the last junction, where we veered off to follow the Howe Ridge trail to the car.

Map, meet book. Book and map, meet trail. Hey, have you guys ever met before? I think not. It was uncanny how many inconsistencies there were between what Kevin and I were experiencing on the trail and the two pieces of information we’d brought with us. Add to that the bizarre cabins, unsettling locals, and, lest I forget, Kevin’s pirouette into the river just before we got back to the car…and that equals one strange day. It was a long, tiring hike but it was still lots of fun, thanks to good company and beautiful landscapes.

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