Siouxon Creek Backpack, May 29th to 31st

Mark and Brian had come up with a plan to do a backpack in the siouxon Creek area that included a loop over Siouxon Peak and another over Huffman Peak. Some of this changed as we went along, but that was the idea.

Day 1: Siouxon Creek trailhead to Chinook Creek trail junction

I met Mark early in the morning and we went from there to pick up Brian on the way to the trailhead. According to the plan, we had an easy day ahead as we were only hiking to the fork with the Chinook Creek trail. Brian had mentioned that it was going to be about 8 miles, mostly flat travel. We started from the lower trailhead quickly descending to the creek. The first thing we noticed was that Siouxon was running incredibly low. I couldn’t say how low but could estimate a foot at the vey least. It was scary. The hike went fast with fantastic views of the creek as we went. Some memories came back as we got closer to the bridge over Horseshoe Creek as you see the waterfall to the left of the trail.
I did remember this fall carrying a lot of water. I was still beautiful but again, not a lot of water. Further down the trail, we passed the trail junction with the Wildcat Creek trail that requires fording Siouxon Creek. We didn’t know at that point if we were going to cross there or somewhere else, but if the plan was to do the Huffman Peak loop on the way out, we needed to cross somewhere. I did the Huffman peak loop a long time ago and I remembered crossing on the way there and then on the way back. That time wasn’t terrible, but I couldn’t say it was easy either. This time, the crossing section looked pretty easy with enough rocks to be able to cross without getting our shoes wet. We continued on until we got to the bridge over Siouxon Creek. We’d read that it was closed because it was about to fall off. The Forest Service had parked it and even put ribbons across but somebody took them off. We crossed on the bridge being careful not to jump or do more damage. This was our destination for the day. The puzzling part was that it was still very early. When we checked the map and the GPS, we realized that Brian and Mark had estimated the distance of the first day from the upper trailhead instead of the lower. Once we picked up a campsite, setup camp and had lunch, we went exploring. At first we thought about continuing upstream on the Siouxon Creek trail but with the water level being so low, we decided instead to follow the creek itself. It was a hot day so getting wet was not an issue either. We walked about a mile upstream passing some narrow canyons and small waterfalls. It was a very scenic adventure that would have been very easy to miss.
Later that evening, after dinner we went the other way to check the Chinook Falls. It was going to be the same route we would take the following day for our day hike to Siouxon Peak, but we wanted to check the waterfall. I’m glad we did as it was almost magical in the late afternoon and low light.
After a while, we went back to camp for a good night sleep.

Day 2: Siouxon Peak loop

The plan for the day was to leave camp after breakfast and head up on the Chinook Creek trail up to the Huffman Peak trail. Reach Siouxon Peak from there and then come back down on the Wildcat Creek trail to complete the loop. We started going up again thru Chinook Falls and taking the trail on the other side of the creek. Right after the fork the arduous climb started. Most of the trail was a dense forest and we could hear the creek down below. As we hiked up, several mountain bikers passed us pedaling their way to the top. Most of the hike up went without many views or interesting things to comment other than some gigantic cedars half way up. As soon as we reached the junction with the Huffman peak trail, views changed dramatically. We came out to the end of a dirt road with open views to the north. Some trees were blocking part of it but Mt St Helens was close enough to almost reach out and touch. To our left, we could see the remnants of the road that was converted to a trail and our destination not too far away. This section was completely exposed so the beating sun didn’t help. We found ourselves dragging our feet as we continued up. In the distance we could clearly see Helens and Rainier and, depending on the angle, part of Mt Adams to the back. Finally the trail made a couple of switchbacks as we were getting closer to a point in the map were the trail makes a hairpin turn. We realized we were going to get some good views from there but we were not ready for them. At the hairpin, some tress were blocking the views but a short path went around to a rock outcrop. The views from that point were just incredible. Right in front of us, down below we could see the Swift Reservoir at the foot of Mt St Helens. Farther in the distance Mt Rainier was also clearly visible and a bit to the right, Mt Adams was peaking over the ridge line.
After numerous pictures taken there, we continued on and took a spur trail to the top of Siouxon Peak. Since the trail had made almost a 360 turn at the hairpin, we were now looking south so the views extended over the Columbia Gorge to Mt Hood. We stopped at the summit to eat lunch while enjoying the views. Once we ate and got fried with the sun, we decided to continue knowing it would be mostly downhill, but before that, we needed to reach the Wildcat trail. To get there we hiked on the ridge line between Huffman Peak and Siouxon Peak which continued to offer some really nice vistas. Then we got to the unction, veered left and started… climbing? Well, it so happens that before going down, you have to go up. It wasn’t a long climb but after reaching Siouxon Peak we were a bit tired. Eventually the downhill arrived and we started quickly going down thru mostly drier forests and very little bushes and undercover. Most of the trail didn’t offer much in terms of views until you get farther down and get the first glimpse, from above, of big water fall as it plummets down into the abys. A couple of switchbacks later you make a last turn and there, right in front of you is the very tall and green Wildcat waterfall.
We stopped there for a while to take pictures and rest as our legs were really sore by then. The last part of the loop was reaching the bottom of Wildcat and taking a connector trail that took us back to camp late in the evening just in time to soak in the creek, have dinner and go to bed.

Day 3: Hike out

The original plan was to pack and hike up the Wildcat trail (the same trail we hiked down the day before), go over Huffman peak and come back down the other side. Distance and elevation was comparable to the 10 miles 3000’ of elevation gain we had done already, but our sore legs said it was going to be too much. Besides that, we didn’t want to get back too late so attempting such a long route around was just not feasible. So instead, we packed our gear and went back to the Chinook Creek to play in the water, build cairns and take pictures. We spent most of the morning doing that before going back to camp where we had a quick bite, grab our gear and hiked back to the trailhead.



Interactive map

To see the full map, click here


Twin Lakes backpack, May 23rd to May 24th

With the warmer weather we had been having, Val and I were itching to go backpacking, so we picked a close to town route that we could easily do as an overnighter. Luck was not in our side as the weather changed and we got a mostly overcast weekend with just a tiny bit of sun when we were already hiking out. We started from the Pansy Lake trailhead meandering thru the woods while we slowly climbed towards Pansy Lake. On the way in, we didn’t stop at Pansy but I did notice the lake looked to be shallower and more like a marsh than a lake from what I remembered. From there we continued on the Mother Lode trail without views until we got to the burnt area further up. I’ve always found burnt areas to be very intriguing. On one side is the sense of desolation as you walk thru black and white tall dead tree trunks, on the other, is the amazement as nature keeps going with new plants and flowers. The views are very contrasting with incredible backgrounds and colorful foregrounds. Along the trail we found both Rhododendrons and Bear Grass in full bloom. Then the trail kind of disappeared below our feet at the same time we got our first view of Upper Twin Lake. We saw several campsites already taken so we walked a bit further and found a nice site next to the lake. Views were a bit limited but with all the fog and clouds, there was not much to see. We took a short walk to the lower Twin Lakes just to check it out and found that half the trail, as you get closer to the lake, is buried under bushes and fallen trees. You pretty much have to make your own way. We did see people heading that way and camping around the lake though so I guess the footpath eventually take you there. That evening we had a small fire to warm up while we had dinner and then hi the sack quite early. The following morning was not much different so we retraced our step back towards the trailhead. We thought for a while taking a detour to climb to the ire lookout to check the scenery but as we were getting closer to the trail junction, we met a couple that was just coming down from there. They told us that the fire lookout was inside the cloud so there was absolutely no views. With that we just decided to continue on towards the trailhead. Towards the end, as we were hiking the last mile or so, the sun finally peeked thru the clouds and illuminate the forest just for a little bit. It was still a relaxing weekend sleeping under the stars.



Interactive map

To see the full map, click here

Waimea Canyon, May 12th

Aside from the Pihea trail, we were recommended not to miss this hike, at least to the waterfall as it gives a different perspective of the canyon and gets you to the only reachable waterfall in the area. The trail starts from one of the lookout points along Kokee Road and it gets challenging right from the start. From the trailhead, the trail meanders thru the forest for a little bit and then it goes down abruptly. For the most part, there are no views in this section but the tress are quite interesting with their twisted branches (especially to us coming from the Pacific Northwest were pines shoot straight to the sky). On our way, we found a sign for the Cliff trail and a quick check at the map told us it was a short path to a view point so we took the turn and followed it. The trail pretty much travels straight to the edge of the cliff and then turn north following the ridgeline. There’s a fence that prevents you from going further than what would be safe. But still, from that point of view, you can almost get dizzy when looking down towards the bottom of the canyon. We had an overhanging cloud so part of the canyon was grayed out at that point. After retracing our steps and getting back to the Canyon trail, we continued down to a small saddle and then started climbing again thru red dirt and big boulders. Suddenly the trees opened up as we saw the top of the hump.
Before we got there, we knew the views would be outstanding. Strangely enough, this area is as dangerous or more than the cliff trail yet it doesn’t have any protection at all. On one side that’s pretty nice as there’s nothing to interfere with the view but on the other, if you were to slip, there’s not much to grab on to. From that point I noticed a very interesting feature that left me puzzled. Right across the canyon, ay about eye level, there are some rocks that looked piled together forming an arch. I was not able to tell if those are natural or someone, at some point, placed them there. Towards the end of this hump, you get the first indication that you are closer to the waterfall as you can hear it in the background. The trail makes a very tight switchback and numerous signs let you know of the many dangers that include floods, slipping, and rocks falling.
It almost makes you question why you are there. As you get closer to the water, the vegetation changes and you are welcomed with little colored flowers everywhere. There’s a short foot path to the right that takes you to a point right above the edge of the waterfall but if you continue on the trail, you cross the creek and another path on the other side actually takes you to the water. There’s a big rock and a couple of logs to pass that section, but right after that you can see the water as it flows to the edge and quickly disappears into the abyss. Most people turn around at this point and head back but the trail continues and eventually connects with the Kumuwela Trail. We decided to explore a bit more and were pleasantly surprised to find another small ridge at the top edge of the canyon with expansive views all the way to the ocean. One thing I need to say is that pictures don’t do this place justice as there’s nothing you can use for perspective. The canyon is so in immense and deep that is hard to think you are on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.



Interactive map

To see the full map, click here


Pihea trail, May 11th

Having done the most known trail in the island, we wanted to explore the other side, which doesn’t necessarily means opposite side of the island. If you look up a map of Kauai, you’ll notice a single road that circles most of the island. On one end you are at the eastern side of the Napali Coast. On the other side, you get to Waimea. This leaves a section of the island that has no roads. From Waimea, the Kokee road takes all the way up to the top of the Kaunuohua Ridge where one side falls abruptly to the Napali coast and the other towards the Alaka’i Swamp and Waimea Canyon. In that area there are numerous trails but interestingly enough, not as much information unless you get a detailed Kauai hiking book or stop at the Kokee lodge and ask in the museum. From there we got the recommendation of not to miss this trail and the canyon trail (story coming up). We’re glad we did as this hike, although short, has some of the best views you can get in the island and take the pictures that define hiking in Kauai. The trail starts from the viewpoint at the end of the road which, for most people is sufficient. From that point, and most of the trail, just turning your head to the left gives you a complete view of the Kalalau Valley surrounded by the impressive Kaaalahina Ridge on the east side and the Kalepa Ridge on the west.
This makes hiking this trail a bit difficult though. As this place get a lot of rain through the year, the trail itself is muddy and slippery. If you are focusing only on the incredible scenery, there’s a big chance you’ll roll down the hill in red dirt. The first section of the trail is very wide and descend to a saddle that only slightly changes your perspective of the canyon. After that, it gets more interesting. The trail narrows and gets more difficult with numerous sections where you have to grab on to branches and roots to continue. It’s almost impossible to come out of this trail clean so the best course of action is just to accept it and get dirty. After the saddle, the trail ascend to the Pihea Viewpoint which only offers limited views of the canyon that are not as good as the ones you get along the trail. Generally this is a good point to turn around but the recommended us taking the trail down to the Alaka’i swamp. According to the description, is one of the wettest spots on earth. We didn’t see much of that although, while we were at the Pihea viewpoint, we saw a huge cloud cover the entire ridge and block all views for about 30 seconds just to disappear as quickly. Most of the trail from that point on, travels on wood planks that are elevated from the forest ground. There are a couple of sections that are tricky to negotiate as the trail steeply descends without good handholds or uses stairs with missing steps. Once you are in the swamp area, the vegetation gets very dense with big leafy plants and ferns. It’s certainly a beautiful place. We continued on this trail up to a four way junction where you can continue on the Pihea trail to Sugi Grove Camp or take the Alaka’i trail going either way to Kilohana on the east or the Alaka’i picninc area on the west.



Interactive map

To see the full map, click here


Hanakapi’ai Falls, May 10th

Last month, Val and I went to Kauai for a short relaxing vacation. Being the island that has the best hiking opportunities of the Hawaiian Islands, we couldn’t let pass the opportunity to explore a bit so we started with the Hanakapi’ai Falls hike which shares the first 2+ miles of the famous Kalalau trail. The Kalalau trail is an 11 miles stretch on the Napali coast on northwest side of the island that is inaccessible by any other means. The waterfall is a 2 miles hike from the Kalalau trail and the only destination you can reach with the need of a backpacking permit for the Kalalau trail. Needless to say, this trail is very popular so solitude is nonexistent. In fact, when we drove to the trailhead, located at the end of the road, we were not able to find a parking spot so we had to backtrack on the road for about a mile until we found a spot to park. This seems to be quite common unless you get to the trailhead early in the morning. The extra walk was not bad either as we passed the Haena Dry Cave and the mouth of the Waikanaloa Wet Cave. But once you hit the trail you soon start going up on well stumped trail that is muddy pretty much all year long. Soon after you start though, the trail comes to a turn that opens up to the ocean and you get the view that you’ll most of the hike. Blue ocean, Kee Beach on the corner behind you, and the Napali Coast line in front with all its cliffs and ridges. It’s a pretty dramatic sight. For the most part, the trail is pretty easy to follow and pretty wide. There are a couple of sections where it goes steeply down that can be tricky. With all the mud, is difficult to get a secure footing so it can be east to slip and fall. For a bit over an hour, we walked this undulating trail as it came out to the ocean and went back in passing one or two small streams until we got to a steep descent down into the Hanakapi’ai Stream. That’s when we got to the first challenge.
To continue on, you have to cross this stream with running water up to your mid-thigh. On the other side there’s a small campground that I wouldn’t think a lot of people use, but if you make a turn towards the coast, a short path takes you to Hanakapi’ai Beach. This small white sand beach is half covered in river rocks that tourist and visitors have piled into hundreds of cairns. It’s quite the spectacle to see. And certainly something not to miss. Continuing on, we found the fork between the Kalalau Trail and the fall trail so we made the turn and started climbing. For all the people we saw trying to cross the stream, we thought we would see more people heading up to the waterfall but that was not the case. The trail head south leaving the ocean behind pretty quick as it enters a tropical bamboo forest. We knew from the hike description that we would be crossing the stream pretty soon, what we didn’t know is that you cross it several times. So at first we thought about taking our shoes off but then we decided it was better to just continue on with our shoes and dry them afterwards. Not only it was going to make it easier to cross but also safer. I literally lost count how many times we crossed the creek and all of them had their share of challenge. At some point we got a small clearing where we saw the big rock wall the encircles the canyon we were in and right in the middle our destination. With all the waterfalls we have in Oregon, our expectations were not too high and I think it was a good thing because the waterfall was actually pretty spectacular. Getting to it was a bit of challenge but just after you pass the last trees and meet the pond where it lands, you’re welcomed with the entire view and a good shower. I couldn’t say there’s a spot where you can stand without getting pretty drenched so taking pictures is not an easy task. After enjoying the falls for a while, we returned the way we went in retracing our steps as the sun was quickly traveling to the horizon. It’s certainly a worthwhile hike despite the extra mud in your shoes and legs.



Interactive map

To see the full map, click here