Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Elk Meadows

Fourth of July week was spent visiting family back in South Dakota.  I had a great time seeing my parents, siblings (all 6 of us got together for my Dad's 80th birthday!), nieces, nephews, and aunt.  (Not to mention both my kids got time off work and were able to come)  But 10 days in a hot, dry prairie climate had me longing for the cool green forests of the Pacific NW - and my favorite mountain.

Wonderful Mt Hood view in Elk Meadows

So the first weekend back from vacation I decided to make up for lost time, planning hikes both Saturday and Sunday.  Chatting about this ambitious itinerary with my podiatrist the Friday before, she asked how my body held up after two consecutive days on the trail.  My response - "I guess I'll find out."

Crossing Newton Creek

Thanks to a glowing PortlandHikers trip report - featuring fantastic wildflower blooms on the Elk Meadows trail and the Mt Hood Meadows Ski Resort - I plotted a copycat hike for Saturday.  Rising early in hopes to avoid crowds landed me at the trailhead by 8:30 that morning.


A path I've traversed many times before, the Elk Meadows Trail began in a fir forest along Mt. Hood Meadows' access road.  Crossing Clark Creek on a well-built log footbridge, in no time I was meandering down the sandy slopes of Newton Creek, my next challenge.


Newton Creek has no bridge and is notoriously tricky to cross.  Fueled by glacial melt, it roars to life on hot summer afternoons.  Although only early morning, the stream looked mighty intimidating to this chicken hiker. 

Gorgeous Cascade Lily (that smelled heavenly)

So I wandered up and down it's banks, searching for a good spot to hop across.  A few downed trees looked promising, but wet and slippery bark caused me to resume my search.  I noticed a man and his daughters approaching the creek.  They headed upriver and began to inch themselves across on a large log perched high above the rushing water.

Frog on the trail

Now I'm not fond of balancing myself on a high log over a raging glacial stream.  But there didn't appear to be a better option.  So I began walking over to the same crossing point.  Then I spied a lower log just downstream of the other.  Now that I could handle! 

Elk Meadows perimeter trail

Whew - crossing Newton Creek became an easy shuffle.  With that behind me, I made my way via the string of cairns on the opposite bank to the trail's continuation.  Now it was time to climb up the other side.

Luscious green meadows

And climb I did!  Ascending nearly 1000 feet in a short mile, I huffed and puffed up eight long switchbacks.  Although a challenging slog, the multitude of lovely wildflowers blooming trailside provided a nice distraction.  There were columbine, lupine, pentstemon, and even a few beautiful white Cascade lilies decorating the forest.  The Cascade lilies smelled wonderful.

Lupine a-plenty

I traded places with another hiking group several times - I'd stop and take a photo, then they'd stop to rest.  Finally, I was near the top of my climb when I saw something moving across the trail.  Turned out to be a frog.  The little creature held still long enough for several photos, and then stayed put for the other hikers who'd caught up to me once again.

Lots of color in these meadows

Not far from the frog sighting, I came upon the beginning of Elk Meadow's loop trail.  The path made a wide circle around these famously gorgeous meadows.  Which direction to go?  Impulsively I chose clockwise.

Elephant head

Starting off through a forest of mossy trees, I followed the trail as it wound around Elk Meadow's forested perimeter.  Keeping my eyes peeled for one of the paths leading into the meadows themselves, I plodded along.

Oregon Sunshine

After a half mile of scrambling through the forest and around several small drainageways, I noticed a faint footpath meandering through the grass.  Tired of the forest, I was ready to see some wildflowers.


I left the forest and entered a vibrant green meadow.  And joy of joys, it was full of hundreds of colorful blooms!

Hood view from mid-meadow

Bright pink elephanthead flowers on tall stalks burst from the ground.  Further towards the forest, huge patches of purple lupine and yellow Oregon sunshine blooms added their hues to the mix.  And best of all, there were killer views of Mt Hood from Elk Meadows' very center.

The one butterfly I managed to capture

Tons of butterflies flitted about.  I tried my darnedest to capture them with my camera, but only managed to get one orange beauty to stop long enough.

Monkeyflowers on Newton Creek bank

Elk Meadows is a popular place for backpackers to set up camp.  Strolling through the meadow, I passed a couple campsites set up in the adjacent woods.  Stopping at one lovely site not in use, I took the opportunity to enjoy a quick snack break and watch the Gray Jays as they eyed my lunch.

I crossed on the low log

Then it was back down the steep ridge to Newton Creek once again.  As expected, it was roaring at a much higher volume than the morning's crossing.  But I located my favorite low log, and this time traversing was a piece of cake.

Lovely downstream view

Several patches of pink and yellow monkeyflowers brightened up Newton Creek's desolate banks.  Midday light illuminated them nicely, and I couldn't resist a few shots of the scene.

Cheery pink monkeyflowers

But my hike wasn't over yet - I'd planned to add a few extra miles by looping over to Umbrella Falls via the trail through Mt Hood Meadows Ski Area.  Rumor had it the lupine bloom was going strong under it's ski lifts.

More Cascade lilies!

Having hiked this trail in reverse several times, I knew it would be a stiff uphill trek to the Hood River Meadows (HRM) lift.  And the day wasn't getting any cooler.  Still, wanting to see those wildflowers, I was willing to tackle the climb.

Indian paintbrush

Oh was it a slog!  The trail didn't have much shade, and bright sun beat down upon me.  Not a fan of hot weather, I slowly trudged up the dusty path.  Luckily, patches of Indian Paintbrush and more fragrant Cascade lilies kept me going.

The lupine was thick on Mt Hood Meadows' slopes

And then I reached the lupine zone.  Huge fields of purple stretched across the trail.  Yeah - this was what I'd come for!

Purple spot under the HRM lift

It's always fun to see your favorite ski hill in the off season.  Mt Hood Meadows is one of the loveliest ski areas to hike.  I enjoyed an amazing flower show of lupine and beargrass blooming underneath the HRM lift.

Lupine and beargrass under the ski lift

After wandering through the ski area, I made a short detour to Umbrella Falls.  But the harsh midday light made for terrible photographic conditions, so I ended up turning around and heading back to my car.  Hot and tired, I was ready for an air-conditioned ride home with a stop at Starbucks for cold ice tea!

Mt Hood peeps through the lupine

Lovely mountain views, tons of wildflowers, a memory card full of images, and 10 miles covered, I considered the day a success.  But now it was time to rest up for tomorrow's hike.  I'd invited a friend to join me so no matter how sore and tired I was, there would be no backing out.

Hike No. 2 report on the next post!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Mt. St. Helens in Bloom

I have a new trail friend!

MSH surrounded by purple and orange!

For several months I've enjoyed chatting with Catherine, a woman who works out at my gym.  Discovering she also liked to hike, I invited her to join me on my yearly wildflower trek to Mt. St. Helens.

Catherine admires the wildflowers

Those of you who've followed my blog for awhile know I don't miss the summer wildflower bloom near this famous volcano.  By late June, the bleak plains surrounding the mountain's truncated north flank erupt in a brilliant riot of color.


So one summer's day in late June Catherine and I headed to Johnston Ridge on Mt. St. Helen's north side.  Our day's destination - the Boundary Trail to Coldwater Peak.

Flowers nearly cover an old log

I love showing people my favorite wildflower hikes, and Catherine was pumped to explore this "new to her" trail.

Devils Elbow Trail was closed  :(

As usual, the flower show began right from the trailhead.  We hadn't taken five steps when the cameras came out.  Lovely purple penstemon blooms carpeted the surrounding slopes, punctuated by small patches of orange Indian paintbrush.

Lupine added to the colors

Poor Catherine got her first "hiking with Linda" lesson - photo breaks happen early and often.  But there was much to capture in those first two miles.

We even found a few avalanche lilies

Happily, Catherine was a good sport, and reveled in the beauty every time I paused to capture an image.

St Helens Lake

The trail between the parking lot and Devil's Elbow was a continuous carpet of purple and orange.  Mt St. Helens herself rose over one heavily flowered slope.  Sadly when we reached Devil's Elbow, I discovered the trail around this prominent ridge had been closed due to erosion issues.  What a disappointment!  The closest and best views of Mt. St. Helens can be found at the end of this ridge.

Just us and the mountain!

But we are rule-followers, so Catherine and I grudgingly took the new alternate trail up and over the ridge.  Nowhere close to as spectacular as the original, we instead trudged up a dusty barren plain, and switchbacked steeply down the other side.  There weren't even many flowers!

Amazing views of Spirit Lake

But on the ridge's opposite side we reconnected with the main trail and wandered through a brushy valley full of more wildflowers and a large number trees that were starting to grow quite tall.  It's nice to see this area, devastated in the 1980 blast, recovering so well.

So many great photo ops!

Then my trail buddy and I climbed out of the valley and started our ascent to Harry's Saddle.  Although the massive carpets of wildflowers weren't present here, we did find a few pockets of avalanche lilies hiding under the bushes.

Crossing a snowfield

Arriving on top of Harry's Saddle, Catherine oohed and aah-ed over the glorious views of Spirit Lake, Mt. Adams, and Mt St. Helens.  Although a mighty fine sight, I reminded her that even better panoramas awaited.

This slope was ablaze with flowers

So up we climbed!  The Boundary trail then zig-zagged upwards to the top of another ridge.  One of my favorite parts of this hike, the views kept getting better the higher we rose.

Mt Adams towering over Spirit Lake

Catherine and I crossed one small snowfield, which was quite fun.  Morning sun had melted the snow enough that it wasn't icy and we had an easy time kicking steps through.

Nice views along this trail

On top of the ridge was my favorite view of all - far below in a craggy bowl nestled in the mountains sat deep blue St. Helens Lake.  A perfectly round water body, it was lined with silver snags - trees blown over by the long-ago eruption.

Catherine scouts our route ahead

Not much farther to the scenic rock arch and Coldwater Peak.  But soon after reaching the ridgetop, Catherine and I were stopped by a steep snowfield blocking our trail.  Although we thought about kicking steps through, the snow was at a very steep angle.  One slip and you'd slide for a long ways down, likely hitting rocks and trees along the way.  Catherine and I decided we weren't willing to take that risk.  There appeared to be a couple footpaths bypassing the snow through brushy undergrowth, but bushwacking looked like way too much work. 

MSH fills the entire sky

So we decided this would be the day's turn-around  point.  Catherine and I found a panoramic spot overlooking St. Helens Lake and all the mountains, and settled in for a nice, long lunch break.

Follow the flowers

You couldn't ask for a better day - clear skies, moderate temperatures, and no bugs!  It was wonderful to sit back, enjoy our snacks, and take in the amazing views all around.  This is why I love hiking.

Back past the purple plains

One of the things I love about this trail is the return trip is almost better.  Descending down the ridge with Spirit Lake front and center provides such dramatic views.  And afternoon light is always fantastic on the flower fields and Mt. St. Helen's crater.

Orange paintbrush was plentiful near the trailhead

Even though the final two miles are slightly uphill (enough that you notice it!) and we were getting tired, I couldn't resist a few more images of the enormous paintbrush bloom against the mountain's crater. 

This year's calendar shot

On the way home, we made a quick bathroom stop at nearby Coldwater Lake, where I noticed the wildflowers were especially thick by the entrance sign.  With the mountain providing a backdrop, it was one worthy scene this photographer had to capture.  A fitting way to end such a marvelous day!

Roadside flower garden

Spectacular wildflowers, scenic vistas, and a new hiking buddy.  Just another stellar day in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!

Sharing with:  Through My Lens

Monday, July 31, 2017

Boulder Ridge

After checking Kings Mountain off my list, I set my sights on another challenge.  It had been many, many years since I'd ventured up Huckleberry Mountain via the Boulder Ridge Trail.  It's steep, grueling path was one of the reasons I'd stayed away.  But my successful conquest of Kings Mtn gave me enough confidence for a second try.

Salmon River near the trailhead

Could I find a hiking companion crazy enough to join me?  My buddy Young was game.  She's the perfect partner in crime - tough as nails, and never complains (even when her loony friend suggests climbing a steep trail on a hot summer day)

Fern-filled green wonderland

We had a genuine challenge ahead of us - 11 miles round trip and 3100 feet elevation gain.  With afternoon temps predicted in the high 80s.

Nurse log

The trailhead was located at the Wildwood Recreation area, a lovely park managed by the BLM, right off US Hwy 26.  After using their wonderfully clean restroom, complete with hot water, soap, and flushing toilets, we decided that alone was worth the $5 entrance fee.  (Best trailhead bathroom ever!)


Our early arrival meant we had the park almost to ourselves.  The only other people were a group of women, all armed with expensive photography equipment.  Striking up a conversation, Young and I learned they were from eastern Oregon, touring around Mt Hood taking photos of the scenery.  One lady lamented that they'd arrived too late for the rhododendron bloom.  I mentioned that I'd heard the rhodies were still blooming at higher elevations, but the group didn't seem interested in doing any climbing (I know.....not everyone is as crazy as Young and I!)


After crossing over the Salmon River on an impressive wooden footbridge, we bid the photo ladies goodbye.  Winding through a lovely, green, fern-filled forest for half a mile, Young and I located the Boulder Ridge trailhead sign.  Things were about to get real!

Rhodie sighting!

The climb started immediately.  Steeply switchbacking up the the side of Boulder Ridge, Young and I slowly sweated and gasped our way higher. 

Wild iris

At first we didn't see many flowers.  Only thick woods of Douglas fir lined our trail.  Then I glimpsed a few orange honeysuckle blooms and some salal.  Then a scattering of lovely wild iris flowers.  They were lovely, but I really hoped we hadn't missed the rhodies.

Young admires the green forest

After about a mile of climbing, Young noticed a scattering of pink petals on the ground.  Looking up, we saw a few bedraggled rhododendron blooms still clinging to the bushes.  At least we hadn't totally missed out!

The forest changes as we climb higher

Lucky for us, things just kept getting better.  The higher we climbed, the more frilly pink rhodie flowers we saw in bloom.  Young and I wished there was a way to tell those photography ladies what they were missing.

More rhodie bushes

Our path led through dense woods, with no views whatsoever.  But about 2 1/2 miles up, the forest cleared to provide a rare viewpoint.  Although the adjacent green foothills and ridges were visible, morning clouds kept Mt Hood hidden from sight.

Detour around a slide area

Time to move on!  We had many more miles to cover and elevation to climb.  As Young and I ascended, the forest changed.  We wandered through one thickly wooded area with virtually no plants growing on the forest floor.

Unusual colored leaves

A landslide caused by a fallen tree forced us to detour around the unstable slope.  But that was the only obstacle encountered the entire day.

Finally a viewpoint

About halfway, a second viewpoint atop a rocky ridge made for a good break spot.  Not only were there great views of the adjacent forested hills, the trailside was also full of lovely wildflowers.


Purple penstemon carpeted one area.

Nice rhodie bush

While an adjacent bush sported some huge pink rhodie blooms (if only the camera ladies could see us now!)

Photo op

Good excuse for some photo ops!

The forest floor was bright green

Then our trail dived back into another thick, mysterious forest, carpeted with bright green leafy vegetation.

Trail junction

My guidebook said when we reached a junction with the Plaza Trail, there was only one mile to go.  I was never so happy to see this weathered sign - slowly being consumed by an old, mossy tree.

Enjoying our reward atop Huckleberry Mountain

After struggling up one last steep, rocky slope, Young and finally emerged on top of a bare ridge.  We'd made it!  Time for lunch and some relaxation.

Avalanche lilies on top

Although Young made herself comfortable and was content taking in the tremendous views, I spotted a huge patch of avalanche lilies, and couldn't resist a few photos.

Our gourmet lunch - all that was missing was wine!

Then I settled down beside my friend to enjoy lunch.  Between the two of us, we had quite a spread!  Young brought a thermos of hot tea and gourmet trail mix.  I contributed fresh raspberries, salami, cheese and crackers, and for dessert a few of my favorite Trader Joe's gingerbread men.  We joked all that was missing was a bottle of wine.  Next hike!

Mt Hood is trying to show herself

The panorama of peaks and valleys one could see from Huckleberry Mountain was impressive.  A fitting reward for such a strenuous climb.

Green ridges

Although clouds still hid Mt Hood from view, the bank started to lift during our lunch break.  By the time Young and I were ready to leave, we began to make out the mountain's base slowly emerging.

Path through the green

Although it would've been nice to stick around and watch the mountain show herself, we had nearly 6 miles and lots of elevation to descend.  Not wanting to get home too late, it was time to head back (besides, a cold beer was calling our names!)

Finally we see Mt Hood!

Although climbing is much harder work, descending is tough on my knees and feet.  After a couple of miles of brutal downhill, my calves and toes were starting to complain.  But another stop at the morning's first viewpoint momentarily made me forget my achy body.  After being skunked on the way up, our return trip rewarded us with the view we were after - Mt Hood finally making an appearance.

One last rhodie (just because)

Then it was an endless trek downhill, through the last of the rhodie bushes.  Although Young and I had seen only a handful of hikers all day, suddenly the woods were full of people.  Who starts out on a hike at 3:30 in the afternoon?

Beautifully carved benches

The trailhead and it's lovely bathroom were a sight for sore eyes.  Not only a good place to clean up after a long sweaty hike, there was even a drinking fountain with ice cold water (so appreciated since our bottles left in the car were as warm as bathwater).  And tired hikers could rest their aching bodies on some beautifully carved benches.

I survived my second steep hike in as many weeks.  Beautiful forests, amazing views and rhodies galore, the Boulder Ridge Trail delivered.  Now.....time for that beer!