Friday, September 22, 2017

Mt Rainier NP - Mount Freemont Lookout

Last summer I took a solo trip to the Sunrise area located in Mt Rainier National Park's NE corner.  There were so many wonderful trails to explore I couldn't fit them all into a long weekend.  Of course, that meant a return visit was in order to check out the stuff I missed.

Foggy day at Sunrise

For this trip, I had three hikes on my "must do" list - Naches Peak Loop, Burroughs Mountain Loop, and Mount Fremont Lookout.  All were trails I'd missed the previous time.

Sourdough Trail

Hoping to catch the wildflower bloom, but miss the eclipse crowds, I chose a weekend near the end of August.  After such a hot, dry summer, imagine my surprise when the morning of departure, I awoke to clouds and cool temperatures.  At first I was thankful for the sunless, chilly weather, even though it meant driving over Cayuse Pass in a fog bank.  However, upon arrival at Sunrise Lodge, I realized these low clouds also meant no mountain views.

Lots of fluffy "Hippy on a Stick"

Since I'd arrived in early afternoon, I'd chosen the five-mile round trip trek to Mt Fremont Lookout as my first hike.  However, the foggy weather was making me reconsider.  Why climb all the way up to the lookout if there was nothing to see?

A few pink asters still in bloom

Still, I'd driven a winding mountain road to get here, I might as well hike something.  So I wandered to the trailhead between the Sunrise Lodge and snack bar/gift shop building and trudged up a paved pathway leading to the Sourdough Trail.  Not far uphill, the trail made an east-west split.  I almost decided to head west towards Mt Fremont anyway, but then a slope full of shaggy Western Pasque flowers (aka "Hippy on a Stick") tugged me in the opposite direction.

Mountains trying to emerge from the fog

The hillside was loaded with the mop-headed little blooms.  Roaming around, snapping photos, I continued working my way eastward, following the Sourdough Trail towards Dege Peak.  A few patches of past-prime asters provided a little color, as did some gold and red bushes already sporting fall hues.

Early fall colors

I'd recently purchased a new camera.  There had been a lot of good buzz about the mirrorless cameras - photo quality as good as a DSLR but much smaller and lighter.  My Canon 7D was a great camera, but paired with my go-to 24-105mm lens made quite a heavy load.  Throw in an extra backup lens and it became lot of weight to lug 8+ miles up a mountain.  So I snagged a great deal on B&H Photo's website and was now the proud owner of a Fujifilm XT-1 mirrorless camera.

Tons of "hippies" all over the slope

Of course, having only had my new camera a grand total of one week (and still learning how to use it) I wasn't quite ready to ditch my old standby Canon.  So I brought the old and new cameras along on my trip, and lugged them both up the trail.  (Yes, I looked like quite the geek with two camera bags hanging off my hipbelt.)

Kinda looks like the Alps

Although I'd hoped to catch peak wildflower bloom, it became quickly obvious I'd missed it by a couple weeks.  Aside from the Pasque flowers, the only other floral color came from a few straggler asters, and most of them looked tired and wilty.

A few more purple asters

But happily the mountains decided to cooperate after all.  After spending the better part of two hours wandering the Sourdough Trail, I began to notice the fog and clouds slowly lifting.  By the time I'd arrived back at the trail junction again, Mt Rainier was emerging from behind her white veil.

Mt Rainer decides to say hi

Should I try for Mt Fremont?  The lookout was 2.6 miles away, and it was already 4 o'clock in the afternoon.  Could I make it back before it got too late?  There was no guarantee the clouds wouldn't move in again, obliterating views.  Despite all that, I decided to give it a go.

Busy bee

This time, I followed the Sourdough Trail in the westerly direction, climbing up to a barren ridge offering great views of the green meadows below.  A few more asters lined this path, these full of fuzzy bumblebees intent on harvesting the last bits of pollen.

Curious ground squirrel

I neared Frozen Lake, a high mountain tarn that remained covered with snow and ice most of the year (although by late August it was all water).  A curious ground squirrel popped out of a crack between some boulders, and I wasted precious minutes trying to get a good photo of the little guy.

Iceberg Lake from Mt Fremont Trail

The wind was blowing hard as I reached Mt Fremont's Trail junction beside Frozen Lake.  I still had another 400 feet to climb.  What would conditions be like at the lookout?  I almost talked myself out of continuing, when a group of hikers came waltzing down the trail.  I quickly pumped them for information.  How strong was the wind on top?  Was it foggy?  Could you see the adjacent scenery?  The hikers all assured me the weather up there wasn't that bad, and the views were totally worth it.  Just the encouragement I needed!

Mountain goats!

So up I trudged, climbing a moderately steep path rising high above a fabulous green alpine meadow.  The views behind me were spectacular - clear blue Frozen Lake ringed by a wall of tall snowy peaks.  I kept looking back so much I almost missed a large herd of mountain goats grazing in the meadow below (thanks to a helpful group of fellow hikers for pointing them out).  Although fairly far away, I was able to zoom my lens to the max, producing one halfway decent image.

The lookout waayy on the end of this bare ridge

On top of the first rise I got a good look at my path ahead.  The trail followed a barren ridgecrest across rocky talus fields.  At the tip of the furthest ridge, I could see the fire lookout tower perched on it's very edge (can you spot it in the above photo?)

Finally I made it!

Although only a little over a mile away, this leg seemed to take a long time.  Winds buffeted my face, chilling my body.  But I kept putting one step in front of the other, and finally rounding a bend, the tiny brown fire tower came into view.

Views in every direction

Although I'd heard the tower was occasionally staffed, by the time I arrived it was locked up tight for the evening.  I was able to climb up onto the deck area, and traverse the entire perimeter, snapping photos as I went.

Some of the adjacent hills and valleys

Luckily, the clouds behaved themselves, and I was treated to some wonderful views of the adjacent mountains and valleys.  Looking towards the SW gave visitors an amazing up-front view of Mt Rainier, so close up you felt as if you could almost touch it.

Looks kinda lonely up here

Since it was after 5 pm by the time I arrived, I had the place almost to myself.  A couple of young women were the only other visitors.  After they climbed the tower for a few quick photos, the girls took refuge behind a wall at it's base.

Lookout selfie

I, of course liberally used both cameras to capture every detail of this unique lookout building and 360 degree mountain panorama.  And if that wasn't enough I also pulled out my GoPro for some wide-angle selfies.  (Okay, I'll admit it....I was actually carrying THREE cameras.  Told you I was a geek.)

Mt Rainier swallowed up by fog

By now it was dinnertime, and my tummy was making it known a snack was urgently needed.  So I climbed down from my perch and huddled behind some rocks to quickly scarf down a cliff bar.  A very persistent chipmunk snuck out of a crevice and decided my cliff bar looked mighty delicious too.  The little critter wouldn't leave me alone.  When he finally gave up on begging, the pesky chipper tried to sneak into my backpack.  Between defending snacks and backpack, I was too annoyed to grab a photo.  The local small mammals definitely appeared to be well-fed and fearless.

Fog descending into the meadow

As I was finishing up my snack, I noticed the clouds and fog had begun to creep back in.  Mt Rainier started disappearing in the mist, and all the adjacent peaks and valleys vanished under a white blanket.  Pretty soon even the lookout tower became obscured.  Boy, had my timing been good!

Fantastic evening light on the mountains

By then it was nearing 6 pm, and I realized I needed to start on my return trip.  I didn't want to be stuck out here after dark.

So back across the rocky ridge I traveled, down the incline towards Frozen Lake (sadly, the mountain goats were now nowhere to be seen).  The early evening light was fabulous, illuminating adjacent peaks and meadows, creating rich, vibrant colors.  Despite the lateness I couldn't resist a few more photo breaks to capture these lovely scenic views.

Alpine valley

At the time, I was two weeks post toe-jamming accident, and although I suspected something was wrong, still didn't realize the toe was broken.  Although my foot had behaved itself most of the afternoon, by the return trip it began to rebel.  Downhill hiking is hard on toes anyway, and the sore toe's continual bumping against the end of my boot became quite uncomfortable.  The final mile was a long, slow painful slog.  Finally, the Sunrise Lodge base area came into view, and I was never so happy.  Not only was the hike nearly over, the low-angle light of late evening produced such rich colors, I had to stop and capture the scene.  A wonderful end to what started out as an iffy weather day.

Sunrise Lodge

I raced daylight back to my site at the White River Campground, and after a quick supper, cold beer, and many ibuprofen, settled into my sleeping bag to rest up for tomorrow's big hike - Burroughs Mountain Loop.

Recap in my next post!

Stats for the day:  9 miles,  1400 feet elevation gain

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Canyon Creek Meadows (with a broken toe)

The evening after my Oregon Coast hike to Cape Falcon, I accidentally slammed my foot into a doorway at  home.  The toe next to my pinky caught the brunt of the impact and immediately swelled up, while the top of my foot turned black and blue.  Just like that, my weekend hiking plans went out the window.


I hoped the toe wasn't broken, as I'd made big plans the following weekend.  Friday, I was driving to Bend, hiking Canyon Creek Meadows on the way, and Saturday I'd signed up to run a 6-mile trail race.

Reflections on Jack Lake

Of course the only way to tell for sure was an x-ray, but there really wasn't anything you could do whether it was broken or not.  So I vetoed seeing a doctor.  Instead, I limped around for a week, hoping things would magically get better.  Thursday night I saw some fabulous photos on a local hiking website from a recent trip to Canyon Creek Meadows.  The lupine was in full bloom and it looked incredible.  That did it.  Friday I was hiking there, sore toe or not!

Dew-spangled lupine

Canyon Creek Meadows is a beautiful alpine meadow at the foot of Three Fingered Jack Mountain.  Located on the eastern fringe of the Mount Jefferson Wilderness, it was barely outside the Whitewater wildfire's closure area.  This fire had been raging for two weeks, consuming vast portions of forest, with no sign of stopping.

Three Fingered Jack rises above an alpine meadow

So that mid-August Friday I woke up ungodly early and made the three-hour drive to Canyon Creek Meadow's trailhead at Jack Lake.  I drove by a very smoky Detroit Lake (which necessitated turning car headlights back on) and caught the fire crew's vehicle convoy heading out from their camp near Santiam Pass to the front lines of the Whitewater fire (I sent those brave folks good vibes and silent thank yous as they drove by).

Lotsa lupine in the upper meadows

I pulled into Jack Lake's parking lot at 8:30 sharp.  Being a weekday, there were only a few cars already.  Stuffing my feet into hiking boots, I noticed my swollen toe wasn't too happy about being confined.  Hoping it would loosen up as I walked, I shouldered my backpack and headed towards the trailhead.

The mountain, up close and personal

The trail started out following the shoreline of Jack Lake.  This tiny water body sat in an area that burned in a 2003 wildfire.  Ghostly silver dead trees rimmed it's shores, making nice reflections in the calm waters.  I stopped to take a few images before moving on.

Bands of color in the rock

I'd just passed the wilderness boundary sign when my foot started complaining.  Wedged into my boot, the sore toe was not happy.  I stopped to loosen my bootlaces, and while I was at it, downed a couple of ibuprofen.  Hopefully that would keep things under control for awhile.

Glacial cirque lake at TFJ base

The path climbed gradually, through an area of burned-out trees.  I spied a smoky outline of Mt Jefferson through their silver trunks.  I then passed through a lovely meadow of tiny lupine, their leaves spangled with sparkling dewdrops.

Magenta paintbrush

About two miles in, I came to a junction with the trail that led hikers to Canyon Creek's scenic meadows.  Crossing Canyon Creek, I could see Three Fingered Jack's outline rising above the trees.

Huge field of lupine

A little more climbing, a bit more wandering through several green meadows containing withered remnants of what looked to have been an impressive wildflower bloom.  Then I climbed a ridge, trekked through a forest, and came out into the grand meadow I remembered from my last visit five years ago.  Three Fingered Jack rose like a wall above the forest.  Lupine bloomed in the green meadow.  A calendar-worthy shot!  It looked like something you'd see in Switzerland.  (Although there's no photographic evidence, I did have a "Sound of Music" moment)


But the best was yet to come.  Traversing the wonderful alpine scene, I passed through another grove of trees, and on the other side was a huge meadow right below Three Fingered Jack.  And it was chock-full of lupine.

Smoke begins to obscure the mountain

Wow!  Best lupine bloom this year!  But Three Fingered Jack loomed above, beckoning.  From my previous visit, I knew there was a pretty glacial cirque lake in the gravelly moraine at it's base.  I really wanted to see that first, so I decided to climb up the moraine.

Colorful meadow

It was a tough climb.  The loose gravel was treacherous.  I'd take one step up and slide a half step back.  I had to be careful my footing, as some of the rocks would slide out under my feet.  It was kind of like climbing on a slope of ball bearings.  At one point, I slipped and landed hard on my knees.  But I picked myself up and kept going.  Finally, I found myself on top of the moraine.  I rested, had a snack, and enjoyed the views of the tiny lake nestled in between the moraine and the mountain.  It was still mostly covered in snow. 

Time for your close-up!

Although the views were fabulous from this high perch, the weather was not.  Strong winds buffeted the mountain, blowing silt in my face.  Although I'd been lucky to have clear skies thus far, I began to smell smoke.  The northern skies started looking hazy.  As I was beginning to climb down, a band of smoke began to drift into the area, darkening the air and ruining my view of Three Fingered Jack.

Lots of butterflies

My sore toe had been behaving itself thus far.  I don't know if the ibuprofen finally kicked in or it became numbed by the walking, but it wasn't bothering me much.  Then, as I was descending the moraine, both feet slid out from under me.  I came down hard on my bad foot.  That inured toe took the entire impact.  I could feel it wrenching under me, moving in a way toes aren't supposed to move.

I couldn't talk, couldn't yell, couldn't swear.  All I could do was gasp in pain.

Yellow flowers beside a stream

Oh no....if it wasn't broken before, I was pretty sure I'd broken it now.  I gingerly limped down the rest of the moraine very slowly.  Making my way through the fantastic lupine field, I saw a tiny stream winding through the middle.  Maybe soaking my foot in it's cold waters would help a little.


So I took another break, and stuck my aching foot into the stream.  Although not as cold as I expected, it did feel good.  I opened my first aid kit and downed another couple of ibuprofen.  Hopefully the combination of meds and cool water would be enough to enable me to walk the 3.5 miles back to my car.

A cold stream brings relief to my aching toe

After a good 10 minutes in the cold water, I removed my foot, gingerly put my boot back on, and meandered my way back through the meadow.  The flowers were so fantastic, I made frequent photo stops to document it all.  Lupine, magenta paintbrush, asters, yellow Oregon sunshine, and other wildflowers brightened the area, making me temporarily forget my pain.  By now it was early afternoon, and hundreds of beautiful butterflies soared through the flower fields.  Truly a magical place, it was hard to leave.

Pretty blue butterfly

But I needed to get back to my car before my foot got any worse.  So I limped down through the meadows, past tiny Canyon Creek.  At the trail junction, I looked back for one final view of Three Fingered Jack, now almost entirely obscured by smoke.  Then, taking the recommended right hand turn, I followed Canyon creek for the next mile.

Smoke is getting thicker

I didn't remember much above this leg from my previous visit, but it turned out to be a delightful trek along a charming mountain stream, gradually transitioning into another burn zone from the 2003 fire.  Fireweed and white pearly everlasting flowers bloomed underneath the charred, gray trees.

Flowers blooming in old burn area

At the junction with the Wasco Lake trail, I came upon a lovely cascade, spilling over a small rocky outcrop.

Canyon Creek Falls

Then I hobbled down the last leg of my journey, another mile through the burned forest.  Although somber, I was pleased to see a solid mat of green across the forest floor.  Small pine trees, some now almost five feet high, were rising from the ashes.  The trees were almost big enough to begin overtaking the desolate gray burn area.  It cheered me to see this forest coming back to life.

Butterfly on pearly everlasting

About a half mile from Jack Lake I began seeing bushes loaded with ripe, purple huckleberries.  Mmmm!  I picked and snacked as I hiked along.  The berries sweet goodness helped me forget about my foot for a few minutes.


Although the lovely sights and yummy berries helped distract me from my throbbing toe, I was never so happy to see Jack Lake.  A short half mile trek and I was back at my car, tugging off that darned boot, and gratefully sinking into the driver's seat of my car. 

New trees beginning to overtake the burn area

Now - on to Bend, to see my brother and his family.  But sadly, I realized tomorrow's race was not gonna happen.  With my toe swelling and throbbing the way it was, there was no way I could run six miles.  But as a happy alternate, I ended up instead at the Bend Brewfest with my brother (and it was much more fun than running.)

I wouldn't have my broken toe diagnosed for another month.  Just this week I saw my podiatrist and she confirmed via xrays that it was indeed broken.  (And wasn't very happy I'd been hiking on it.)

But, I'm still glad I decided to hike the Canyon Creek Meadows loop.  The flowers and mountain views were so spectacular, it was totally worth it - broken toe and all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cape Falcon

The first week of August was a scorcher.  Temps in Portland rose above 100 degrees every day, extremely unusual for this part of Oregon.  The kicker came when Thursday's high hit 105, close to Portland's all-time record.  Enough!  On Friday I decided to escape this inferno with a hike on the cool Oregon coast.

Lush coastal forest

When things heat up in the Willamette River Valley, Portlanders head to the ocean beaches to get relief.  When I pulled into the Oswald West State Park's huge lot that Friday morning, it was a pleasant, foggy 58 degrees.  Heaven!

Fireweed blooming on the beach

There's a few trail choices here, but I decided my hike today would explore Cape Falcon's rugged headlands.

 Short Sand BeachS

After getting my stuff together, I shouldered my pack, crossed under Hwy 101, and followed the path through a lovely uber-green coastal forest of huge spruce trees.  Quite a few surfers joined me on the trail, lugging surfboards and wetsuits.  A half mile later I came upon Short Sand Beach's picturesque cove.

Fireweed along the beach

Although foggy here at the beach, it was lovely nonetheless.  I lingered for several minutes, watching the waves crash on shore and photographing a huge patch of surprise fireweed blooms.

This way to the trail

Then I located a marker for the Oregon Coast Trail (OCT).  My plan was to follow this trail northward to Cape Falcon, and possibly beyond.

Foggy Cape Falcon from Short Sand Beach

From the beach, the OCT's windy path charged upward through lush woods.  Anything but smooth, this first climb forced hikers to navigate over large, bumpy tree roots.

Look out for the tree roots!

I was enjoying the cool, foggy conditions.  I was even comfortable in a long-sleeve shirt!  It seemed like ages since it had been chilly enough to don layers.  Perfect hiking weather.

More trail signs

Oh, how I love coastal forests!  The tall spruce trees, with giant trunks.  The moss draped over their branches, like an old man's beard.  The lush trailside ferns covering the forest floor.

Uber-green forest

There must've been moisture in that heavy fog, as I noticed all the vegetation was covered in misty water droplets.  After so many dry weeks without even a hint of rain, it was a welcome sight!  I didn't even mind that my arms and pant legs got wet shimmying through some of the brushier portions of the trail.

Dewdrops on the leaves

And the dewdrops on nearby leaves and flowers made for fantastic photo ops.

Fireweed bloom sparkling with dew

After two miles of winding along the steep cliffside trail with occasional ocean glimpses through the trees, I came to the trail junction for Cape Falcon itself.  A short trail through a huge field of salal bushes led me to the tip of the headland.

Cape Falcon headland

Lucky for me, the fog retreated upon my arrival.  I was able to enjoy clear views of the craggy rocks and crashing waves below.  Seabirds flitted in and out of the rocky point.  A golden colored slope showed remnants of what appeared to have been an impressive white daisy bloom.  I was about a week too late.

Small cove barely visible through the fog

After a snack and many photos, I decided to continue northward on the OCT.  For the next mile, the trail rounded another scenic cove, visible from occasional viewpoints through the thick forest.  About then the fog decided to roll back in, slowly obscuring cliffs and beaches.

Salal berries

From the final foggy viewpoint, the trail then turned inland, climbing steadily through the woods.  The undergrowth became thicker and began to intrude onto the path.  I also started to encounter lots of blown down trees, requiring scrambling skills to scale over or under.  And of course, everything was covered with dew.

Foggy forest

Although the foggy forest was beautiful, my arms and legs were starting to get soaking wet.  When I stopped, my body became chilled.  Tired of crashing through damp underbrush, I decided it was time to turn around.

Lots of moss!

As I retraced my steps back through the woods, the fog became thicker.

Huge spruce trees in a row

Made for some great photos in the forest, but not so great for capturing shots of the ocean viewpoints.

Another hidden cove

Passing back by the Cape Falcon headland, I decided to check out the views again.  But now the entire headland was shrouded in fog and you couldn't even see the ocean below.  Glad I took so many photos the first time around!

Short Sand Beach through the trees

I'd started my hike fairly early in the morning, and had the trail nearly to myself on the trip in.  But on the return, as I came closer to the trailhead, I encountered more and more people.  It seemed everyone in Portland had woke up and decided to head to Cape Falcon.  I judged my distance from the trailhead by the people's footwear, and when I began to see flip-flops, I knew it was close.

Lots more people here now!

Now Short Sand Beach was packed with people.  Glad I'd spent some time photographing in early morning when it was nearly empty.  I looked back towards fog-covered Cape Lookout one final time before trekking up the trail to my car.

I'm glad Oregon has these refreshingly cool ocean beaches to escape to when things heat up in town.  The best way to spend a hot summer's day!

Stats:  7.5 miles, 800 feet elevation gain.