Twin Lakes - Sawtooth Wilderness backpacking loop, Aug 11th and 12th

Continuing our honeymoon, Val and I spent a couple of fabulous days in Boise after backpacking the Teton Crest Trail. Our original plan was to hit the trail again on Sunday for a 5 or 6 day loop in the Sawtooth Wilderness, but after dealing with rain for 5 days, we decided to take an extra day and shorten the trip. That changed our trailhead as well so Sunday we drove around the wilderness to Stanley, ID were we stayed the night. That night we checked weather forecast and packed our gear for an early departure the following morning. The forecast was not very promising but we still opted for following the plan and hitting the trail.

Day 1: Pettit Lake to Twin Lakes

After a quick breakfast in Stanley, we drove the ten or so miles to the trailhead and got on the trail in no time. The morning was spectacular and very promising with clear blue skies and warm temperatures. At first the trail took us on the north side of Pettit Lake all the way to the end were, after passing a small meadow, left the valley behind and started climbing towards Alice Lake. It didn’t take long for us to leave the lake behind and start traversing a canyon with huge granite walls on both sides. It almost seemed like every other step, the scenery was different and we had traveled a long distance when in reality it was just a different perspective. The trail follows a creek most of the way that in most places you can only hear. After several turns and crossing a very shallow creek we finally got to the first lakelet below Alice Lake. In front of us was a cirque of tall peaks and incredible scenery.
For a while we walked around the north side of Alice Lake enjoying the views of towering El Capitan (not to be confused with the California Version) on the other side. WE left this scenery only for a moment to climb just a bit more and then descend towards our destination. We arrived at Twin Lakes right to the stretch of land that separates them. Just by instinct and because that was the way we would follow the next day, we turned right and continued north on the shore of upper Twin Lake until we found a campsite. We dropped our backpacks and went checking for other sites but didn’t find any. It was still pretty early in the afternoon so we set up the tent and relaxed a bit. I got in the water for a while and stayed there for as long as my legs were able to comfortably take the cold water. After that, I went exploring a bit, first back towards lower Twin Lake. I walked pass the junction we had arrive from and decided to explore a bit around the stretch that separates the lakes. In that area I found the best campsite. It had big fire pit and views to both lakes. We had already set up so moving was not an easy option. On my way back, I passed or campsite and continued on the trail we would take the following day towards the north end of the lake. The trail starts climbing quickly on that side so that extra elevation gave a really good angle and view of the lake. I took a couple of pictures but made a mental note to go later in the afternoon to get some nice light and take more pictures. We had a nice dinner that night and after putting everything away and hanging the food, I went back to the north end to sit and take some pictures. By then, he sky was already graying out a bit. There was no rain yet but it wasn’t looking very promising.

Day 2: Bail out

The next morning we woke up to a very grey and almost cold morning. We guessed we got some drops of rain thru the night but nothing like we had in the Tetons. Still, the clouds and sky were corroborating what the forecast said. The original plan for the day was to go over the pass towards Toxaway Lake and then continue north towards Kramer Lakes or west towards Edna Lake. Either of these routes included going over passes or hiking on ridgelines. With bad weather, that didn’t seem like a very good idea. So we started our hike going north passing by the spot I had gotten to take pictures the previous night. From there, the trail just traversed the hill on a couple of very long switchbacks until we got to the saddle.
At that point we got our last view back at Twin Lakes which, at that elevation looked just fantastic. From there we stared descending quickly towards Toxaway Lake. On the way we passed a couple of very shallow lakelets filled with turquoise water. Above us, the clouds still looked very menacing. This chain of lakelets was connected by a creek that moved water from the ridge down to the lake. So the trail continued traversing the hills close to it. The final approach to Toxaway was a series of switchbacks on the right side of a huge rock filed were you could see numerous waterfalls. Going around Toxaway was not very interesting as view of the lake were limited. That was until we got to the north side. The lake itself is beautiful especially because of a small island in the middle. About half way on the north side, we found the trail junction going up to the saddle around Sand Mountain. By then the sky was not showing signs of improving so we called it and decided to continue down towards the car rather than risk it and go over the pass. From there to the next lake, Farley Lake, the trail took us by several small lakes and ponds.
I recall one in particular that might have been no more that 10 or 12 feet in diameter but very deep. It almost looked like a small crater filled with water or a sink hole. While passing by Farley Lake, the sky cleared up a bit and it almost seemed that it was going to hold but that didn’t last long. By then we were already descending towards the forest as the clouds were quickly moving in. We kept on hiking trying to maintain a good pace as we knew the rain was coming. We could even smell it in the air. The wind picked up and then the first clear sign, thunder. At first it was far away but as we continued, they seemed to be getting closer and closer. We got our rain gear out and put it on when it started raining, lightly at first but getting worse by the minute. When we passed the lowest point of the connector trail that would take us back to the trailhead, the sky was incredibly dark and the sound of thunder was almost nonstop. We pushed on. Right after passing the last ridge line, where we knew it was all downhill from there, we got the think of it. At first it was pouring rain with wind, lighting and thunder, but then it started hailing. Finally we saw the shore and we knew we would be out quickly; we just needed to hike around the north side of the lake to the parking lot. As we did, I looked back to a complete different image of the lake than the image we saw the day before. From our point of view, we couldn’t see the other shore much less the towering peaks on the other side. Not only that but we also so waves on the lake.
It almost looked like we were on an ocean coast. We finally made it to the car just when the rain stopped so we had a chance to put our gear away, dry up, change and start driving. The dry spell didn’t last long and we got more of the storm while on the road. As we drove away from the Sawtooth we couldn’t believe the clouds around us. We knew then it had been a good call to bail. We got a nice glimpse at this magnificent area that we’ll certainly visit again sometime, hopefully with better weather.

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Teton Crest Trail – Grand Teton backpack, Aug 4th to Aug 8th

This is a trip that Val has had in her to do list for a while. I didn’t know much about it but after reading a bit it was certainly going on my list as well. Then we both decided it was a great trip to do for our honeymoon. Planning for it was both easy and complicated. First was getting permits. At first we laid out a plan for 4 days and made a plan to login and get the permits as soon as they became available. We learned in a few minutes that some people either have very fast fingers or some spots are taken before they permits are offered to the public. In the end we ended up getting permits for a 5 day 4 nights and not even one of our original camping spot choices. The second part was a bit more complicated as we needed to hire a service to either shuttle us from one end of the park to the other or move our car. And then was the part of planning for food and gear and the extra weight in the form of a bear canister and bear spray. With all that, our expectations for the trip and seeing wildlife were pretty high. When the day came, we took a two day leisurely drive that took us thru Idaho all the way to Jackson in Wyoming. We stopped at the ranger station were we got permits and bear canister and then went back to pack it all up in a little cabin we stayed. That night we got the first ominous sign of things to come – rain.

Day 1 - Jackson Hole Tramway Summit to South Fork Granite Zone

That little drizzle we had Sunday night was rain on Monday. With permits in hand, we drove to our starting point in Teton Village were we left the car and spare set of keys cleverly hidden behind the wheel. We went back and forth a couple of times thinking if it was a good idea to go or wait and after a while we grabbed our gear, jump in the tram and started going up. The tram saved us from having to climb over 4000’ on our first day which is what most people do. We landed at the tram summit which slightly above 10000’. The whole thing was completely covered in a cloud so we couldn’t see anything. At the top there’s a small coffee shop were they serve waffles. We followed our noses to
there and got our rain gear out. While doing that, both Val and I had a close encounter with the lack of oxygen. Tying your shoes and then standing straight made us realize that we needed to take things slowly. Then, a bit reluctantly we decided to step out of the comfort of the warm building and start our journey. The first part was kind of tricky as we couldn’t see far so we followed an old road as much as we could. Luckily the trail descends from the summit so we got under the clouds pretty quickly and found our first intersection where we took the Rendezvous trail. We also found the Bear warning sign…
From that point on, trail descended towards the South Fork Granite Creek valley where the views expanded a bit allowing us to see some pretty amazing rock walls to the south. We noticed that wildflowers were not only abundant but also huge. We learned later that it was very unusual for this time of year to have so many flowers. As we hiked, the skies went from fully covered, to partially covered to grey again.
After taking the cut-off trail we finally reach the trail we would travel on for the next couple of days, the Teton Crest Trail. At that point we were already in the camping zone we were staying that first night but following the recommendation of the park ranger, we continued until we reached the end of the zone. The ranger told us we would find good spots around there and that the scenery was spectacular. He was not lying. The last part of the zone climbs gently on a wildflower meadow that ends at a saddle and drops on the other side. Towards the west, the valley is protected but huge
vertical walls. To the east and south, the meadow rolls down towards the middle fork of the Granite Creek.
We found a nice spot protected by the trees just off the trail and very secluded. After setting up camp we made a short trip to get water and then dinner sitting on the tarp surrounded by flowers. The sky above was grey by then and when we were done and walking back to the tent, the rain was starting.

Day 2 - South Fork Granite Zone to Alaska Basin

In our original plan, we wanted to camp one night on the Death Canyon Shelf, First because a friend of us had strongly recommended it and two because it was probably one of the most scenic places along the TCT. Unfortunately, we were not able to get permits for that zone. The ranger also mentioned that there was no water there… more on that later. So the plan for the day was to hike thru the Shelf and continue on the other side to Alaska Basin where we would spend the second night.
The day started with a small visitor that really wanted to know what that tent business was all about. As we were packing our gear, this little fellow tried to get in our tent a couple of times. He was clearly not scared by our presence. Once packed and ready we started hiking down towards the North Folk Granite Creek on a very gray day. We had done the first part of the trail the day before when we went to get water. With the overnight rain, the trail was a lot muddier than before. After getting down to the valley, we crossed the creek that was pretty dry and started climbing again thru more wildflowers until we reached Marion Lake. The lake was spectacular and empty despite having a group size campsite.
Then came a long walk thru beautiful flowers, dark grey skies and tons of mud until we reached the shelf. Luckily the shelf was more or less flat so we only needed to concentrate on not sliding off the trail with the mud. Weather was very unstable and as we continued we got rained on several times. At times the clouds would raise just enough to let us know that there were views we were missing. Along the way we passed countless creeks flowing of the snowpack across the shelf and down – plenty of water everywhere. A little past noon, we wanted to stop for lunch but with the rain, mud and weather, we opted for a quick standing lunch. Not the ideal when you have great views but then, we didn’t want to get to cold. We left the shelf and then the park on a section of the TCT that crosses out to the Targhee National Forest. From that point, the impressive, and imaginary for us, views of the Tetons are left behind and a view towards the west opens up. Right after passing Mount Meek Pass the scenery switched to a more arid alpine scenery. Behind, Mount Meek extends on a ridge a wall towards the northwest that seems to have no end.
In that area we found our first snow as we traveled over Sheep Steps before descending down to Alaska Basin. Rain continued to come and go as we hiked down long switchbacks to a valley and then climbed again to a subalpine meadow dotted with small lake. By then we were ready to drop our gear so we took the first campsite we found a few feet of the trail but behind some trees. Later that day, once we had picked up water and were ready to have dinner, rain started again. With no signs of clearing up, we set up a tarp between some rocks and a tree and managed to crouch under it to cook and eat. Once we were done, we waited for a while so we could grab everything and go back to the tent without getting completely wet. At some point we started getting cold so there was no other way than a quick run, changing into dry clothes and jumping in our sleeping bags. For the second night in a row, we were inside early in the evening listening to the rain. I woke up several times during the night just to learn that rain wasn’t going away.

Day 3 – Alaska Basin to South Fork Cascade Zone

Due to the changes in our original plan, day three was a shorter day but included going over the second highest pass in the route. We started again on very grey day with a light drizzle that stopped at some point. After crossing the south fork of the Teton Creek, we started gaining elevation slowly with some views towards the west. We passed thru Sunset Lake which, with clear skies must be spectacular; with our weather it looked really nice. Strangely enough the trail was much drier on this side of the mountain so that was a relief. As we gained elevation, the surrounding terrain got flatter to a point where it looked like we were in a gigantic football filed. In the distance we could see the ridge edge close to Hurricane Pass. Up there we had a close encounter with the locals. As we were hiking we saw tons of marmots that couldn’t care less of us being there. Short of the top, Val stopped to get a bite to eat and turned to face me.
We noticed a Marmot to my left that was interested in us so as I walked towards Val; the Marmot started circling her from behind until it got on the trail. Once there, I asked Val to stay still as I took pictures of the marmot as it came towards us almost asking for food. I’m guessing it was not more than two feet away when it turned around and went the other way without rushing. We saw several more before we got to the actual pass were two more were siting enjoying the view. As we passed by, one got close to the other for a kiss. I guess part of was for the view we didn’t have yet. A few yards after that, we got to the edge were the trails drops and the views open up. To our right we could see the Schoolroom Glacier and the lake below it.
Ahead of us we had deep valleys and incredible peaks. Even though the clouds were covering most of the scenery you could easily get the idea that there was a valley deep below us and an insanely high peak behind. Probably one of those rock walls climbing and disappearing in the clouds was Grand Teton. As we hiked down towards the valley and lost a lot of elevation, we noticed that there were more chances of getting in the rain zone. That was proven beyond doubt when all of a sudden we got a hailstorm. We were almost trapped on the trail with nowhere to go for cover so we stopped, got the tarp out to cover ourselves and waited. After that the 20 minutes of heavy wind and hail we decided to look for a campsite rather than continue farther to the end of the camping zone. We were lucky for a while as it cleared enough to get some sun and dry some stuff as we set up camp. Sun didn’t last long. The sky turned grey again and it looked like it was going to rain again. We took our gear down to the trail and, as we were about to start, the rain started again. We were under a tree which made setting up the tarp a bit easier. The wind didn’t help much though. We finished dinner, put everything away but still had to wait for a good hour before we could make the run to the tent. We were cold, tired and wet.

Day 4 - South Fork Cascade Zone to Upper Paintbrush Zone

We woke up with the idea of bailing as we were done with the rain but almost changed our minds as we woke up to clear skies and sun. For a short while we were able to see mountains around us and the valley we had descended on the night before. With that, instead of going down on the trail to our dinner spot, we climbed on a big rock to have breakfast with a view. It was magnificent for a while but then fog and clouds moved in quickly. The entire valley disappeared in front of us. And then it disappeared again giving us some nice treats.
As the fog was clearing out we could see sun rays filtering thru the trees illuminating the valley below us. We were unsure what the weather was trying to do so we packed and got back on the trail. We descended even more until we got to the Fork where both the South and North fork of Cascade Creek Join. We decided to continue on rather than bailing so we turned left and started climbing towards Lake Solitude. The first part of the climb was thru dense forest but then we found ourselves hiking on the side of a slotted canyon. We couldn’t guess were our next pass was but we knew we had a lot to climb before getting to our next camping spot. As we traversed the hills we passed an area that seen a considerable avalanche. We hiked thru packed snow and a lot of broken trees that looked to resent. We saw several hikers on the way but the big group was already at the lake when we got there. Clearly is a big destination for day hikers. The lake itself is beautiful and the surrounding area even more as you are in the center of a big circle. While resting and getting a bite to eat, we saw the trail ahead of us as it cut a straight line on the hill going up. It looked ominous from the lake. With that view, and the fact we actually had some sun, I changed before hitting the trail again. Then we started climbing. This was Val’s favorite part of the entire trip, the climb to Paintbrush Divide, the highest pass in the route.
The trail seemed endless as it went up and up and up climbing a bit over a thousand feet before it made the first turn. Two turns after that brought us to the top at about 10700’. Other hikers have told us that it could be tricky getting down on the other side of this pass. In their description, they said something like looking like a big football field, going left and descending from there. The trail was actually pretty clear and easy to follow before the pass; figuring that part didn’t add any challenges. Before getting to the very ridge, we had to stop to put on our jackets as wind was howling. Once we reached the actual pass, we were welcomed with an incredible view of the Upper Paintbrush valley.
A completely different view than the valleys we had seen before. This one looked more alpine and bare compared to the other ones. It was spectacular. We started our descend on the other side first going over loose rocks and then traversing snow banks. It was slow going for a while. We passed several potential campsites but decided to push on to shorten the distance for the last day. We knew we had a long day ahead. That idea made us make a mistake (unknowingly though). We passed a nice campsite that we ignored which ended up being the last campsite in the area. Once we reached the boundary we had no option but to climb back up to it. Up there we set up camp, and looking at the clouds, decided to set the tarp before making dinner. We were kind of expecting rain. As soon as we turned the stove on to boil water the wind started pushing us really hard. Then lighting and thunder started. Rain hadn’t started yet but we picked everything and run down to the valley and crouched next to a couple of big boulders. After setting our cooking gear in a small rock ledge, we placed the tarp over us and held it there while the storm passed. For about an hour or so, we heard the rain and thunder and saw the occasional lighting. It was a bit scary. Finally I decided to tie down the tarp around the rock so at least we could eat. So we cooked dinner and ate under the tarp while fending of a Pica that was very interested in what we were doing or our food. Finally the thunder stopped so we picked our stuff and went to bed. We were both done.

Day 5 - Upper Paintbrush Zone to Jenny Lake trailhead

Last day we woke up again to a clear day with the sun illuminating the paintbrush canyon. It was quite spectacular.
By then we were tired of eating far from our tent so we brought everything to the campsite and made breakfast there. We left the campsite shortly after and started our long descend to the String Lake trail. On that trail we went from alpine to subalpine to forested scenery as we left the tall peaks behind and hiked towards the open plain. It was incredible to see big jagged peaks behind us and a lot of flat land in front. It was like being in the dividing line between two different worlds. Finally we got down to the Valley trail which would take us around the south end of String Lake and the west shore of Jenny Lake. For some reason I had thought that Jenny Lake was not that big. It took a while to go around that lake that looked almost like a small sea from the trail.
Incredibly enough, we didn’t get a drop of rain that day, in fact I pulled my umbrella a couple of times for shade. Even though we had much better weather than the previous days, the hike itself was not as enjoyable. Part of it was because it was somewhat arid and the other because is closer to the trailhead so you have to dodge day hikers as you go. We finally made it to the trailhead without seeing a moose or a bear. Later that day, when we were back on the road towards Twin Falls in Idaho, we got the evening part of the storm as it was rolling slowly towards the Tetons. We saw really heavy clouds, multiple lightning bolts and tons of rain. I guess there was no rest going towards the Tetons.

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Table Mountain, Jul 27th

When Val and I don’t have a hike planned for the weekend we tend to just pick one of the classic ones that will give us some good exercise and a fair amount of rewards. With weather being almost on the crappy side, that’s pretty much what we did. We packed our day gear and headed out to the Gorge to hike Table Mountain once again. We did get descent views from the top which included MT Hood, Mt Adams and Mt St Helens. We also got our first glimpse at fall colors… yes, fall colors in July. Weird.

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Marble Mountain Wilderness, Jul 3rd to Jul 6th

Looking for places to backpack during holyday weekends can be a bit of a challenge if you want to find a somewhat secluded area. It does get a bit more challenging if you start considering the weather in early July. Here in Oregon it can be a complete gamble so you could end up having spectacular days or pouring rain. The forecast for the weekend was not looking very promising so I started looking south, like in Central Oregon south. Same thing, farther south it was still the same so in the end, I started looking into Northern California. While doing that, I found a bit of information about the Marble Mountain Wilderness, a small area within the Klamath National Forest. From the description and a couple of pictures, it looked promising. Within the wilderness, there’s a very popular area, the Sky High Lakes which tends to be crowded even on non-holiday weekends. With maps and guides, I created a loop that touched on the highlights while still trying to avoid the crowds. And so we took off Friday night on long drive to Lover’s Camp where we would meet the rest of the group and start our loop

Day 1 – Lover’s Camp to Rainy Lake

Lately Val and I have gotten into the habit of driving the night before to the trailhead and sleeping in the car. That way, we can get a fresh and early start. It seems some other people got the same idea as we got to the trailhead at around midnight and just when we were about to fall asleep, two other parties got there.
Clouds over the ridge
The next morning we met with the rest of the group and soon were on the trail. For the first 4 miles, the trail travels somewhat close to Canyon Creek. You don’t really see the creek but you can hear it below you. There are several spots where smaller creeks cross the trail and continue down. As you climb, there are a handful of openings that will give you views of the Canyon Valley and some unnamed peaks on the other side.
Just when you start needing a break, you get to Marble Valley and the Forest Service Station. The spot is easy to recognize, not only because there’s a cabin in the middle of the forest but also because the views in front of you open up to Marble Mountain. This spot is also where the PCT crosses.
Forest Service Station
Originally I thought that by this point we would be close to the tree line and that most of our trip was going to be alpine. The wilderness is actually a bit lower in elevation than what I thought. Most of it is subalpine. We took a short break at the cabin and then continue on our intended route following the PCT north just until the next junction. From that junction we veered off to the west and started climbing towards Marble Gap, the small saddle in the middle of Marble Mountain. In that area vegetation is not too big so views extend south to the Canyon creek valley and to the north to Black Marble Mountain. As you approach the gap you can only imagine the views you’ll get but once there, you realize you were far from it. From the gap, the views extend to the west looking straight to Elk Peak, but the most amazing thing is to see what is known as the Marble Rim. The ridge is a semi-circle with sheer drops to a deep valley over 1000ft below.
South view of Marble Rim
From that point, the trail descends on the other side following the ridge and then turning and descending to the lowest point very abruptly. Differently to the trail on the other side, we found this trail to be brushier and less maintained. It seemed not too many people had gone this route in a while. Once we got to the Rainy Valley Creek junction, we turned south to follow the trail until we reached the last junction and short trail to Rainy Lake, our destination for the first night. We expected to find an open meadow with the lake so you could walk around it and set camp anywhere. What we found instead was a large site right before the lake and a foot path to a very muddy opening. The rest of the lake was forested and faint trail indicated that maybe you could go half way around but not too far.

Day 2 – Rainy Lake to Cold Springs

The plan for the day was a bit easier than the previous day. Only the first part was a steep climb back to the west end of the Marble Rim and then continue mostly o the ridge until reaching the PCT at Four Corners to then descend towards our destination. But son after we started, it seemed we were on an abandoned trail. If the previous day had been brushy the uphill from Rainy Lake was just crazy. In some section it was even difficult to see the trail in front of your feet. Luckily, after huffing and puffing and burning all of our breakfast calories, we reached the junction with the rim trail. From that point on, the trail was again well maintained and easy to follow. As we started traveling on the ridge, we passed by two saddles that opened the view to the rest of the rim that gave us a hint of what we would see later. But before that, we went back into the forest and traversed for a while on the side on the south most peak of the rim. There was not much to see for a while until the trail circles and comes on the other side where it opens to the east looking towards the Big Elk Fork. From that point, you see a small hill to the left and nothing more. As you walk and get closer to the next saddle you can’t avoid to salivate on the views you’re about to get and the saddle does not disappoint.
Marble rim from the saddle
There’s a small section of the trail that you literally stand a foot or two away from a sheer drop that must be well over 100ft. If that’s not enough, to the side you get the best view of the west side of Marble Mountain. We stopped there for a while to take pictures and pose in front of those views for a while. Then, after cleaning our drool, we continued crossing Marble Mountain again to the east side where we reached Four Corners, a trail junction with the PCT. We took the PCT south as it traveled on the ridge with ample views of Canyon Creek first and then the Sky High Lakes Basin. From the ridge you can’t see all the lakes, only
Frying Pan Lake
Frying Pan is full visible, but from there we could see and hear people below. It was indeed a busy weekend. Finally we found the junction to Shadow Lake. A short portion of the trail seemed that it was going nowhere even though you seem to get closer to a large black/green rock. Once you go around the last turn, the lake appears below with its intense blue color. As you get closer, the views get better and once you get there, you realize the lake sits in a shelf just above the Sky High Lakes.
Shadow Lake
From the side it almost looks like an infinity pool where the edge of the water just merges with the sky. From the information I had I thought we would find places to camp for the night but we found two things. The first is that there’s absolutely no shade in Shadow Lake. The other is that there are only three or four campsites so not enough space for all of us. Being early afternoon it didn’t make a lot sense for us to stay there. We did get in the water and ate lunch but staying any longer would have meant being fried alive. Being that he case, we had to think about an alternative and I thought about just continuing on the intended route to see what we would find. In a sense it was a pity we didn’t get to stay there as I think the views of the valley and Marble Mountain early in the morning must be spectacular. So after a while, we packed and continued on first climbing out of the shelf to a connector trail that would take us back to the PCT. Shortly after that, we found the junction to the Red Rock Valley, our intended route out. Right across from the junction, was another less used trail signed to Cold Springs. The map shows two tiny streams that don’t go anywhere but is market as campsite. We decided that it was worth checking it out so we took that detour and descended to a small meadow packed with wildflowers, and just like that, in the middle of the meadow, a small hole with water running out of it. The first hole looked a bit dirty but still usable. We noticed the trail continuing to a wooded area where we found not only a huge campsite with enough space for about 10 tents but also another hole and small stream with the cleanest, coolest and freshest water we had seen so far. Needless to say, we dropped our packs and stayed there.

Day 3 – Cold Springs to Lover’s Camp

Last day was the day out and we had a short hike so after eating our last breakfast we departed from our not so secret hideout. Once we got to the junction, we took the Red Rock Valley trail down. We passed a small meadow with trees and a small pond that I had seen in the map and thought it would be a potential stop if we hadn’t found Cold Springs. After going around this lakelet, we came to the biggest meadow I’ve seen.
Big Meadows on Red Rock Valley
It was big enough for you to get lost within the bushes and grasses. The first to disappear in it was Max, the four leg companion that came with us. In the meadow, the only thing you could see was some bushes moving and a black tail wagging. We thought it was only that section but soon realized the entire trail would pass from one meadow to another as we traveled fairly close to the creek. The other side of the creek was adorned with huge rock walls that had a reddish hue. I think in the afternoon, when the sun is in the other side these walls turn bright red offering a real spectacle. Finally we got some cows, one stream crossing and the junction with the Valley trail that took us back to the trailhead with plenty of time for that long drive back home.

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Silver Star grand loop, Jun 22nd

Ok, this is not the official name for this almost loop hike but since this is the second time around it, I guess I get to name it right? Silver Star is still one of my favorite spots for a day hike. There are multiple approaches from easy to hard and a couple that can be combined into a larger loop. This route combines the Starway Trail with the Bluff Mountain Trail completing an almost loop with a car shuttle. The first time I did this loop, several years ago, we got some snow that forced us to add a bit of distance to get to the car and some route finding. This time we were lucky to have perfect weather and conditions for a fantastic hike. Getting to the entry point for the Starway trail is not as hard as getting to Ed’s trail but still requires a high clearance car and being ok with one or two scratches on the paint. Once you’re there, the adventure starts by crossing Cooper Creek over a bridge and starting to climb. Most of the elevation gain happens very quickly as you gain about 2500’ in 2.5 miles. At this point, when you’re also ready to pass out, you reach a summit that can be a bit deceiving. The first time I did the Starway trail, this is a far as I got. It’s still worth the effort nonetheless as the views of surrounding peaks is spectacular. It truly makes you think you are at the Silver Star summit but that’s not the case. Around you there are multiple canyons and the highest peak, across from the canyon looking southwest is Silver Star. Coming to that realization makes you ask yourself what you are doing. Well, that’s part of the adventure. From there the trail is faint in places but the overall direction is simple to follow. As you travel south, the trail descends quickly to a saddle in the forest and then starts gaining elevation again. As long as you keep going in that general direction, you’ll eventually hit the Bluff Mountain Trail. Along this section, the views are dominated by the Star Creek Canyon and some waterfalls you can clearly see. One in particular falls into a slot canyon sideways. I’ve yet to find a route to it but that’s a future project. As you continue, if you’re lucky, or have good navigation skills, you’ll get to the clearly marked junction with the Bluff Mountain trail. Another sign that will tell you you’re there is the drop off in front of you and Mt Hood in the distance; this is just a teaser though, views still get better. From that point on it gets easier. Just follow the trail until it joins with Ed’s trail and get to the summit. You’ll notice that I don’t have a lot of pictures from the actual summit. The reason is we got welcomed by a horde of very hungry mosquitoes that quickly made certain to get a taste of us. I don’t think we stayed there over 3 or 4 minutes. We hiked back down to the saddle where a little breeze kept the hungry bastards at bay enough for us to have lunch. After that we retraced our steps to the Starway – Bluff Mountain junction but instead of turning left on the way we came, we continued straight. The trail is pretty easy to fallow and has some gentle ups and downs as it navigates the ridge. Passing on front of Little Baldy is always interesting as you hike on a trail in the middle of a rock pile. I always wonder what makes the mountain and the rock pile stay in place. Then the trail turns north and passes on the South side of Bluff Mountain. A faint trail seems to indicate you can get to the top of Bluff but I’ve never done that. Scenery changes a bit but you still continue following a ridgeline while descending. After going around two or three smaller peak, you finally get to the Bluff Mountain trailhead. It’s at higher elevation so you don’t descend as much as you climbed which is a welcomed note to your knees before the drive home.

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