Fort Stevens, Nov 23rd

We hadn’t made plans for a hike over the weekend so we had to look for a quick option. Neither Val nor I ware super motivated for a hard hike so we even toyed with the idea of just going to the coast to hang out. While thinking about that, Fort Stevens came to mind. I recalled reading a bit about it in the hiking books but never making a point to go there as it’s a flat hike. Val hadn’t gone there either so in a split second decision, we grabbed small [packs with water, trail mix, a rain jacket and of we went. Fort Stevens is located at the mouth of the Columbia River into the Pacific Ocean. This is one of the forts that were built around the 1900 to protect the state, and possibly the country, from invaders coming by sea. These days, Fort Stevens is a State Park with some historic sites, a campground and some trails. Maps and guides of the area are not very clear but you can certainly find your way with a bit of common sense. From the Visitor’s Center, we started heading towards the ocean on what I think is therefore Stevens Trail (different sources show deferent names for the path). The path was mostly paved and easy to follow as it wondered thru deep and beautiful forests. In the distance we could hear the ocean so we knew we were close but didn’t know how close or when we would get to it. We got to a road and had to make a guess on how to continue but finally we took a connector trail that went straight to the beach. It didn’t get us there so there wasn’t a “walk by the beach” kind of thing. Instead, we followed parallel to the coast line but always behind a tree line. Nothing to see other than the coastal forest. Finally we got to a road that gave us two choices. First we went towards the ocean and finally got on the sand. It was a windy and cloudy day so there weren’t a lot of people there. We got to see one of the highlights of the trail, the wreck of the Peter Iredale. Only a small piece of this ship is still visible after about a century. From that point, we retraced our steps and continued inland until we took a small trail that lead us to Coffenbury Lake. We made a stop for lunch at a little camp table on a floating dock. Besides ducks on the water, we didn’t see another soul. We wanted to do some distance so instead of going back from there, we took a trail that goes around the lake. As any other, it was nice to walk around it and see ducks flying and moving around. There were several instances that we came around a bend just to scare some of them that would fly/swim towards the center of the lake scaring the crap out of us. On the South side of the lake we found a junction and not being sure, we guessed and took the wrong turn. That spur trail went into a more forested area on a less maintained path. We saw a private property sign and images of rednecks with guns started to appear on our minds. Towards the end we found a couple of big building that I think belongs to the girl scouts. We turned around and got back to the lake to continue going around. Once we got back to the point were we had stopped for lunch, we connected with the Battery Russell Trail going back to the parking lot. It was another quiet walk thru the empty forest. At one point we crossed paths with a lonely deer quietly exploring the area. Once we got back, the weather had improved a bit so we had a bit of blue ski and sun over us. WE took a short detour to explore the Battery Pratt and some of the other installations in the area before heading back to the car. It ended up being a day hike covering the distance that we normally do but without the elevation gain. Not bad for a no-hike day.



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Coyote Wall and the Labyrinth, Nov 1st

There are three or four ways to modify the Coyote Wall hike to make it longer and/or more interesting. One of those is to add the Labyrinth. This is an area east of the wall that has some rock formations and little hills that makes you feel like you’re in a labyrinth (hence the name). There are multiple footpaths in the area so it’s definitely open for exploration but this time we just wanted to do a good loop including Coyote Wall. Time couldn’t have been better. It was a crisp November morning with some clouds in the skies and wonderful fall colors. We started the usual way as if going towards Coyote Wall but stayed on the road a bit longer to get on the Labyrinth trail. As with most of the trails in this area, nothing is official. There are multiple paths yet is hard to get lost as its pretty open and you can quickly get a sense of where you are. We followed a path that hikes on the west side of the labyrinth and took just a couple of short detours to explore around. After passing the labyrinth we continued up on open fields overlooking the west side of the Gorge towards the high desert. Mt Hood was showing his white cap in the distance and the sun was painting the hills in orange. At some point we got to a 4WD road in the upper section that connects back to the Coyote Wall area. We followed that road for a while and then made de decision to do the longer loop. This loop involves descending quite a bit towards the wall and then climbing back again along the border. There’s a shorter version where you can traverse without losing a lot of elevation but you meet the Coyote Wall at higher elevation and miss some of its beauty. Once we reached the Coyote Wall, we started climbing up again as the wind started to blow on us. It wasn’t necessarily cold but it was enough to prevent us from stopping at the usual stop at the top for a snack. Instead, we continued and soon came to the junction with the connector trail that goes down to the valley. I remember once seen deer in this area. Once we were down and shielded from the wind, we stopped for a well-deserved late lunch. We were not able to stay long as we noticed ticks getting on our clothes. After that it was a leisurely walk down thru yellow and copper covered trails all the way down to the car. Always a good hike.



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Hunchback Mountain, Oct 12th

This is one of those hikes that has been forgotten for one reason or another. I do remember doing this trail ate least a couple of times before. On one of those, we went up with a group and at some point lost the trail due to snow. We followed the ridge as much as we could but after a couple of hours of negotiating rhododendrons we bailed and came back down. A second time I remember doing this hike was with Val when we started dating several years ago. It was a fall day when the clouds didn’t clear up so we got no views and the day kept cold. Back then, we reached the Rock Pile, had something to eat, and came back down. This time around, we didn’t have a big plan but we wanted to go a bit further. On this trail that is easily doable as you can continue all the way to Devils Peak which would require a very long day or staying out for the night. There are several places along the trail though were you can stop, take a break and return so we picked a view point past the heliport that is a bit over 5 miles in. Being a fall day again, we wanted to be back down at a reasonable time. We got to the trailhead pretty early and started hiking getting a couple of surprises. The first one was the greenery. The day was overcast and it had rained the previous days. All that recent water was enhancing the moss. The other surprise was the trail itself. I remember on the past times I’ve done that there were some blown down trees you had to jump over or go under. There were one this time. The trail was easy to follow and well maintained. As we gained elevation, the fog from the lower valleys started to raise and come thru the trees filtering the light a bit. At moments we got some pretty magical views in the forest that we had all to ourselves. On the way up, we past the Rock Pile without stopping but making a note to do so on the way down. Further up and just for a brief moment, the clouds parted and we got a clear view of Hood. It didn’t last for long but enough for a picture. We got to our intended destination where we stopped for a quick bite and then retraced our steps back down. Perfect fall day.



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Flag Point via Lookout Mountain, Sep 20th

For reasons unknown to me yet, I have overlooked some trails on the east side of Mt Hood. Perhaps part of it is because is a longer drive. Reality is this is the second hike I find on this side of the mountain that ends up being particularly surprising. Flag Point is an active, and one of the tallest, lookout towers in Oregon. From its vantage point, it can monitor the Barger Creek Wilderness and beyond. Apparently there are several ways to get there (even by car). One of those routes starts from High Prairie going past Lookout Mountain which is the route we decided to do. Getting to the trail was not difficult at all other than driving for a while on a dirt road. From the trailhead, you already get a feeling that the hike will have splendid views as you start pretty high up. Contrary to most trails, that the reward is at the end or before you turn around to go back, this hike has rewards almost from the moment you step on the trail. When you start, there are to trail options, one that crosses the prairie and the other that circles around it near the cliff end overlooking valleys bellow. Views at this point don’t extend far due to tall trees, but it doesn’t take very long to reach Lookout Mountain. At that point views in all directions open up. Right in front of your face to the west is Mt Hood. Looking north, on a clear day like the one we had, will give you clear views of Helens, Adams, Rainier, Goat Rocks and beyond. A very cool thing about this view though is that being farther east makes Rainier and Adams look almost aligned. If that wasn’t enough, turning south opens the views to Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Sisters and beyond. The incredible thing about this destination though is that is very easy to get to and the hike is not long by any means. We did stay there for a bit sucking in all those vies before continuing on towards Flag Point. After Lookout Mountain, the trail descends quite a bit as it travels on a ridgeline. There are several knobs on the way with user trails to open spots with more amazing views. About half way to Flag Point, you pass a spur trail that goes to Oval Lake and Fifteen Mile camp, another access point. Between that point and the road that lead to Flag Point, you get more of those clearings with great views but these are all rock outcrops. Some of them with intricate shapes due to wind erosion. Beyond that the valleys of the Badger Creek Wilderness extend in front of you. It’s quite impressive. Towards the end, the trail joins an access road and a short walk uphill will get you to the lookout tower. We climbed to the top of the tower and met the guy manning it. I can’t remember his name but he took note of all our names to keep track of visitors and was kind enough to show us around and answers all our questions. It was interesting hearing that he spends 4 to 5 days in a row at the lookout tower just watching for fires. It’s a solitary life but certainly not a boring one. On the way back we made pretty much the same stops as we did on the way up just enjoy the views a second time. We also took the little detour to Oval Lake which didn’t meet our expectations. After a long, dry summer, the lake was very low and full of flies. Not very inviting. After I mapped this hike, I noted some other trails in the area that I’ve put on my list, so you can expect more explorations in the side of the mountain.



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Wood Lake – Indian Heaven backpack, Sep 13th to 14th

Almost at the very last minute and eager to go out and spend a night, Val and I packed our gear and headed to Indian Heaven. This wilderness is a place that both Val and I have visited numerous times in the past but stopped because the window is a bit small if you want to avoid flooded trails and mosquitoes. It also holds a special place for me as it’s the first place I backpacked when I moved to Oregon and where I did a solo with Shia. While planning and getting the gear ready, I recalled how much fun Shia used to have every time we went there. It was hard for her to choose where to go first but she made certain that every lake, pond and even mud puddle was properly tested by jumping head first. I realized that I had to take her with me one more time and let her go.

Day 1: Thomas Lake to Wood Lake

We got to the trailhead in good time and hit the trail going towards Thomas Lake. The parking lot was pretty packed so we didn’t know what to expect in terms of people but we had an open plan. The only almost fixed idea was to follow the old Cascade Crest Trail that has been decommissioned for some years when the PCT was established. The first part of the hike was as I remembered it. Shortly after leaving the parking lot, you reach the Dee Lake and from there on is one lake after the other. The new thing I found is that some of the closer lakes now have designated campsites so I guess a lot of people don’t go far into the wilderness but prefer to stay closer. We didn’t make any major stops on our way in until we got to what looks like a junction near Rock Lake.
The Thomas Trail at that point makes a sharp turn right to head towards Blue Lake. Right across from the turn there’s a log and beyond what looks like a foot path left by people going to the bathroom. That was actually our sign to leave the main trail and go exploring. In all the times I’ve been to Indian Heaven, I had never explored this trail so all this was new to both Val and I. The trail gets a bit faint in the beginning but after that is real easy to follow as it travels north passing several open meadows. It clear why the trail was decommissioned as the area is very fragile. Some parts of the trail go thru pine forests and then open grassy areas. Being late in the season, we were welcomed with bright reds and yellows. That in contrast with the deep blue skies made for some very beautiful scenery. We passed several dried ponds and a couple of streams. Towards the north end of the trail, shortly before joining with the Elk Lake, we came to Acker Lake.
The trail passes on its East side by a huge pine with a very nice campsite and fire ring. We thought it would make for a nice place to spend the night but since it was still very early in the afternoon, we opted for a short lunch stop by the lake before continuing on. At that point we looked at the map and considering how much we had traveled we decided to try to get to Wood Lake to camp. Neither of us knew that lake so we didn’t know what to expect in terms of people and campsites. Continuing north, we got to a trail which I though was the PCT but son realized it was the Elk Lake trail. We could see Bear Lake thru the trees and discussed whether we wanted to go check out Elk Lake farther west. We opted to skip it as we saw some campers already on Bear Lake. Then we joined the PCT and continued North thru the forest passing just a couple of ponds and gaining some elevation. I remember doing this trail while backpacking solo with Shia to go around Bird Mountain and descend towards Cultus Creek on the other side. Back then, we got scared out of our pants when an elk came running and crossed the trail to disappear almost instantly on the other side. I remember only seeing the white butt at face level as it faded thru the trees. This time we didn’t see elk but the trail was pretty quiet and desolated. We stopped and evaluated for a minute the possibility of checking Placid Lake but then, realizing it was a long walk down and that Placid Lake has a trailhead close by we decided against it to avoid filled campsites. We pushed on until we found the junction with the Wood Lake trail and took the turn. The trail itself looked like a deconditioned trail or a trail that is rarely visited. Branches and overgrown grasses obscured part of the path as we lost elevation. At some point we got our first glimpse at the lake with its beautiful blue sheen.
We got excited and continued as it was looking very promising. Finally we got to the lake and found a foot path that went around. We took the west side just because and almost bushwhacked our way around looking for a campsite. We noticed then that we had a steady wind blowing thru so temperature seemed to be going down quick. Finally towards the northwest side, we found a shallow meadow with a big tree in the middle and a campsite. We dropped our bag and explored a bit just to be sure but we stayed there. While setting our tent up and filtering water we had what would be the first weird encounter of the weekend. Out of nowhere came to guys in full camo with bows and arrows. Silently they walked out of the forest, waved at us, made a turn west, continued and disappeared thru the forest. It left us with a bit of an uneasy feeling knowing we had a couple of hunters close by. As the sun went down and the wind kept blowing it got pretty cold quickly so we made dinner, ate and went for a quick walk to check the colors as the sun illuminated Mt Adams and Rainier red.



Day 2: Wood Lake to Thomas Lake

We woke to a sunny and equally spectacular day on Sunday. After doing our normal chores and packing we started our hike back by climbing back on the Wood Trail back to the PCT. At the junction we met the first couple as they were pushing north to go back home. We retraced our step on the PCT for a while and met more people heading out – all the people we missed the previous day I guess. Just before Deer Lake, we reached the form with the Cultus Creek trail that connects with the Cultus Trailhead and the Lemei Lake trail. That trail circles around Lemei Lake before joining the PCT again.
Since we had done that section the day before, we took the alternate route to enjoy the different scenery. We passed a couple of lakes and hiked next to big rock slides on our way to Junction Lake. After the lake, at the junction with the East Crater trail is when we had our second weird encounter. As we approached the junction, we saw an older guy with three teenagers. The older guy was resting a bit while the “kids” were playing. As we got closer, I noticed one of them was actually carving his name on the PCT sign. I got really pissed as the signs were pretty new and this – guy – was already defacing it. When we got close, I thought about saying something to the older guy but then I noticed the jean overall and the three packs, all with hunting rifles propped next to a tree. I thought it was illegal to hunt in wilderness areas. Maybe carrying a weapon is not, who knows, fact is, it was depressing to see that. We got on the PCT and for a while I couldn’t get the image of my mind. I recalled talking about with Val who felts roughly the same way as I did. Continuing on, the PCT gained a bit of elevation as it went around the East Crater. There’s no trail that goes there but I’ve read reports of people going in to explore – is on my list. On the way down from East Crater though we met another couple hunters dress in camo with bows and arrows. We were both very perplexed as we passed them by while they were putting on some deer pheromones or something to get in the woods. Disturbing. Finally the PCT took us to Blue Lake where we stopped for lunch.

I showed Val the place where I pitch the tent the first time I was there and how Shia would run around the lake and jump in to go get a stick. After lunch, we sat for a bit in front of the lake and I dispersed some of her ashes keeping the rest to disperse in some of the other lakes she jumped and swam in. It took me a bit to recover from the sad moment but then we continued our path on the Thomas Lake trail going back towards the trailhead. With the time we had, we were able to make several stops in several lakes along the way. We hiked quiet most of the way as I was remembering Shia. We made a final stop at Thomas Lake were Val dropped her pack and read for a bit while I got my feet wet. Finally we hiked the little last portion of the trail back to the car to finish another great adventure.



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